The Kennebec Land Trust has been working to “protect the natural features and working landscapes of the Kennebec River and Lakes Region” since its founding in 1988.

Over the years, the trust has successfully preserved 2,540 acres on 29 properties through outright ownership, and holds conservation easements on an additional 1,026 acres on 21 parcels. Protected lands range from Wayne to Vassalboro and Vienna to Litchfield, and include forests, farms, fields, wetlands and scenic view sheds.

“We are seen as a principle voice of conservation in Kennebec County,” said Theresa Kerchner, executive director of the trust, noting that the group works cooperatively with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and other concerns to further overall conservation efforts in this pretty rural area.

Twenty-three miles of foot trails wend through many of the properties, offering hikers plenty of opportunities for exploration of this region rich in natural beauty, human history and diverse plant and wildlife habitat. Paddling, birding and skiing are some of the other recreational activities to be enjoyed, thanks to public access to these lands.

With so many properties to choose from, I needed some help deciding where to go for a good introduction to the trust’s hiking possibilities.

Kerchner recommended the following, and rightly so, as both combined for a fun day’s outing.

PARKER POND HEADLAND PRESERVE

Nearly a mile of shoreline and 142 acres of old growth hemlock forests and granite ledges are preserved on scenic Parker Pond in Fayette. This special place was purchased by the trust in two parcels, one in 2004 and a second in 2008.

The land here was first settled in the late 1700s, and numerous stone walls amid the woods are testament to its farming history. And the rock beneath your feet, exposed in many places, dates back an estimated 380 million years.

“It’s so quiet here,” Kerchner said of the environs around Parker Pond. “You’re a long way from traffic noise.”

A 1.5-mile loop trail circles the peninsula, reaching the pond’s edge via a short side trail halfway along. The view across the water and to the hills beyond is pleasingly free of man-made features.

Further on, the path climbs easily to a craggy overlook 280 feet above the pond, with fine views of Birch Island off to your right.

Along the south end of the loop, a new trail takes off into the hardwood trees. Follow the blue blazes for an additional mile of woodsy striding before meeting up with the main trail again near the pond.

CURTIS HOMESTEAD CONSERVATION AREA

Probably not many land trusts can say they have the family lands of a former governor under their protection, but this one sure can. Kenneth Curtis and his sister Rebecca Curtis Meredith donated the beautiful 360-acre Leeds property to the trust in 2000.

“We’re mighty proud of it,” said Kerchner, noting that the homestead had been in the Curtis family since the early 1800s.

Four trails — Upper Fields, Curtis Rock, Woodlot and Lower Fields — combine to provide three miles of pleasant hiking. Walkers will step easily through an interesting mix of forests that have grown to dominate what was once primarily open pasture, hay fields and orchards.

Enjoy the quiet stands of hemlock and pine, as well as oaks and maples on your way to Curtis Rock, a large boulder that lies just above an extensive peat bog. From this vantage point you can see across to Bog Brook and the oak island, a unique upland area accessible only during dry periods or in winter.

Two areas of the property are specially managed: Ten acres of fields are kept open for bird life, and another 12 acres of woods serve as a demonstration forest for educating the public, especially youngsters, on sustainable forestry practices.

The harvesting also provides income for the trust.

Access to all trust lands is free. Dogs are welcome on most properties, but not those with sensitive ecological values.

The trust relies not only on the generosity and goodwill of donors and landowners, but on its 700 members, which includes dedicated volunteers who monitor and maintain the properties and their trails and facilities, lead field programs, take care of office chores and whatever else needs doing.

Spend some quality time outdoors with the trust and you may want to join as well.

For more information on Kennebec Land Trust conservation lands, trail head access, programs and events, go to www.tklt.org or call 377-2848.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to:

[email protected]