Thursday, April 17, 2014
By JOHN CHRISTIE
Although on many trips Down East we had noticed the signs for the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge on Petit Manan Point a few miles past Steuben on coastal Route 1 between Sullivan and Milbridge, it was only recently on the way back from a few days' camping on Campobello that we journeyed down Pigeon Hill Road on Dyer Neck to the refuge for a closer look.
That short visit inspired me to return a few days later to hike and kayak for a full day in what is one of Maine's less-visited but captivating sanctuaries.
The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge spans more than 200 miles of Maine coastline and contains 49 offshore islands and four coastal parcels totaling more than 8,000 acres, of which Petit Manan Point is one.
The National Wildlife Service manages these sanctuaries to provide habitat for colonial seabirds such as common, Arctic and endangered roseate terns, Atlantic puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, Leach's storm-petrels, laughing gulls and common eiders.
In addition to the many seabirds, wading birds and eagles nest on the refuge islands, and on the mainland you can spot songbirds, seabirds and waterfowl.
My day included hikes on two scenic trails and a climb up Pigeon Hill in a nearby 172-acre preserve managed and maintained by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy. The conservancy was formed some three years ago through a merger of the Great Auk Land Trust and the Quoddy Regional Land Trust, each with over 20 years of land conservation experience protecting Maine's coastal lands for wildlife habitat and providing public access for recreational use.
To date, the conservancy has protected over 4,500 acres and 45 miles of shoreline by working with conservation-minded landowners in the Downeast region.
Added to my hiking was the fun of exploring Pigeon Hill Bay and beautiful Bois Bubert Island in a kayak from a launch site where the road passes over a narrow spit of land dividing Pigeon Hill Bay from Carrying Place Cove.
The 2,195-acre Petit Manan Point Division of the refuge features two separate hikes through jack pine stands, coastal raised heath peatlands, blueberry barrens, old hayfields, freshwater and saltwater marshes, cedar swamps, granite shores and cobble beaches.
The Hollingsworth Trail (6.2 miles down Pigeon Hill Road from Route 1) is a 1.5-mile loop with views of heaths and beaches. Interpretive signs along the way offer insights into refuge wildlife, habitats and management.
You're likely to hear and spot grassland birds such as bobolinks and savannah sparrows, and if you're there in the spring you might spot an American woodcock in one of the clearings, demonstrating his unique courtship display.
Other resident wildlife call the refuge home, and your chances of seeing a ruffed or spruce grouse, a white-tailed deer, or a snowshoe hare, a porcupine, a coyote or a raccoon are pretty good.
The longer Birch Point Trail, about 4 miles round trip and a half-mile closer to Route 1 than the Hollingsworth Trail, starts off in a blueberry field and leads to salt marshes on Dyer Bay after passing through a mixed-wood forest.
Both hikes are pleasant strolls with great bird watching opportunities and scenic vistas.
Heading back up the point toward Route 1, a sign on the left marks the trailheads for Pigeon Hill and its three short hikes: Summit Loop (.3 miles), Silver Mine (.4 miles) and Historic (.4 miles).
The reward for a hike up Pigeon Hill is an amazing panoramic view from Cadillac Mountain to the west and the Bold Coast to the east.
If you have time, as I did on my full day, I'd suggest a circumnavigation of Bois Bubert Island in your kayak, where you'll be treated to perfect examples of Maine's rockbound coast at its best.
For an off-the-beaten-path place with the potential to immerse you in the best of the Maine coast, add Petit Manan Point to your must-visit list for this fall -- or next summer.
John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son Josh write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty that only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at: