For the past 10 years, the Denmark Mountain Hikers charged up mountains in western Maine every month, if not every week. But when the coronavirus hit Maine, the group’s co-founder canceled all upcoming hikes – an unprecedented move for a group that hikes in blizzards. But Allen Crabtree offered a caveat: Don’t stop hiking.

“Don’t let this deter you from hitting the trail,” Crabtree urged. “The mountains are still there and are calling to us.”

Not everyone can hike a 4,000 footer, but Maine is home to some amazing, and amazingly empty, wildlands. We’re not talking about state and city parks, but preserves owned by The Nature Conservancy, the state’s Wildlife Management Areas and its Public Reserve Lands, some as large as 40,000 acres.

Never heard of these undeveloped lands? Now would be a good time to discover them, since we all need to stay active and away from others in the face of the pandemic. Scientific studies have shown that hiking and breathing in forest air helps the immune system. And Maine’s wildlands offer plenty of breathing room.

The Nature Conservancy’s Basin Preserve has eight miles of trails and four miles of coastline in Phippsburg – a great place to get away from the crowds. Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy in Maine

“Using the standards that are being required – of standing 6 feet away from others – even when the parking lot is full, certainly you can stand (that far) from others if you want. And at the trail heads, with some common sense, people can follow these recommendations,” Rex Turner, the outdoors recreation planner at the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, said about the bureau’s wildlands in southern and central Maine.

But take note of preserve guidelines and a few important points of caution: These primitive lands are not always staffed, so visitors need to be self-sufficient, and how you take care of human waste – especially at this time – is a concern to land managers. Many of these preserves do not have outhouses, and where they do, they’re not cleaned often. So plan ahead at home or familiarize yourself with wilderness skills and how to dispose of waste.

Then consider visiting some of Maine’s wild areas. Here are a dozen around southern, central and midcoast Maine:

The Basin Preserve, Basin Road, Phippsburg: More than eight miles of trails and four miles of coastline make up this 1,846-acre preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. The property protects important estuary habitat.

Berry Woods, Bay Point Road, Georgetown: This 377-acre preserve features coastal views, an old feldspar mine, an osprey nest in Wilson Pond, and an old cellar hole. The Nature Conservancy preserve’s four miles of trails here link to the two miles of trail on a neighboring Maine Audubon property.

Dodge Point Public Land, River Road, Newcastle: Located on the western shore of Damariscotta River, it has four trails that cover 5.5 miles. There is 8,000 feet of frontage on the river, with pebble beaches.

Kennebec Highlands Public Reserve Land, Watson Pond Road, Rome: This public reserve land unit has 6,800 acres full of dozens of hiking and mountain biking trails, including a trail up 1,288-foot McGaffey Mountain. Three parking areas are off Watson Pond Road.

Morgan Meadows Wildlife Management Area, Egypt Road, Raymond: More than two miles of trails and a 100-acre freshwater wetland offer a quiet area close to Portland. According to the Royal River Conservation Trust, the area is full of old-growth white pine, black birch, waterfowl and deer.

Pineland Public Reserve Land, Depot Road, New Gloucester: The 600-acre forest allows hiking and wildlife viewing of deer, red fox, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and wild turkey. (Not related to the large working farm of the same name.)

Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area, 1 Nature Way, Steep Falls: This 4,000-acre preserve is close to the west side of Sebago Lake but is best accessed by the Steep Falls parking area. The woodland and wetlands offers hiking, canoeing and birding.

Tatnic Preserve, Cheney Woods Road, Wells: About two miles of trails are located at the north end of Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Area in this Nature Conservancy preserve. Keep an eye out for turtles laying eggs in the spring, as well as moose, red fox and ruffed grouse.

Vernon S. Walker Wildlife Management Area, Water Street, West Newfield: The 5,600-acre area includes upland forests, streams, ponds and small mountains – like 800-foot Knox Mountain, which has an unmarked trail to the top.

Waterboro Barrens, Buff Brook Road, Waterboro: With miles of sand roads for hiking through pitch pine and scrub oak, this 2,475-acre forest helps protect as many as 11 species of rare butterflies and moths.

Wells Barren, Wire Road, Wells: With four miles of trails, this barren provides habitat for nine state-listed rare plants and 11 state-endangered or threatened animals. Controlled burns by The Nature Conservancy help the ecosystem thrive.


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