Bundled-up hikers on trails at Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary in West Bath enjoy the view north over Back Cove. Carey Kish photo

 

On the western edge of West Bath, sandwiched between the New Meadows River and Back Cove, is where you’ll find the Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary, 86 acres of coniferous woods, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes and mud flats. Hamilton is one of eight Maine Audubon properties around the state dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation.

Three miles of color-coded hiking trails – aptly named Red, Blue, Yellow and Green – weave through the Hamilton Sanctuary, enough for several enjoyable hours of meandering along the undulating margin of Back Cove and through the dark, fragrant forest. A handful of benches en route offer scenic spots to sit and ponder the natural beauty of the place.

On my last visit to Hamilton on a frosty early winter’s day with family, we crunched happily along the icy trails, thankful for the micro-spikes firmly attached to our boots. A brisk wind swept in across Back Cove, and in the shadowy woods, we were chilled to the bone. Round a corner into the bright sun, however, and we rejoiced in the relative warmth of the big orb.

Poles and spikes are good equipment to have on hand once the white stuff starts covering the trails at Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary. Carey Kish photo

 

There wasn’t much for wildlife about – it seemed for the most part that only silly hikers would be out in such cold on this day – although we did note some foolish chickadees and red squirrels flitting and scurrying about. Hamilton Sanctuary is also home to eagles, oystercatchers, herons and bitterns and a host of migratory birds, as well as raccoons, mink, fox and deer.

Millicent Hamilton, a birding enthusiast and ardent naturalist who lived on this chunk of land for four decades, bequeathed the property to Maine Audubon in 1987. A few years before her passing, she penned these sentiments: “It is a peaceful and beautiful bit of land that has been an important part of my life for many years, to roam afoot or to view from the water… My most fervent desire is that it continue unspoiled for the wildlife, and that many people in the years to come will find peace and joy there as I have done.”

Thank you, Millicent Hamilton, for your incredible gift, and to Maine Audubon for making these wonderful, winding trails available to the public. We certainly found contentment on our walk, and I trust that you will as well, with spikes or snowshoes this winter, or perhaps in the warmth of next spring or summer. In any case, put Hamilton on your to-do list, as it’s a beauty.

The Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary lies in the general vicinity of the Kennebec River Estuary, a huge area that encompasses the great river and lands around it, from Gardiner and Pittston to Merrymeeting Bay and on to Phippsburg and Georgetown, where the Kennebec empties into the Gulf of Maine.

Hiking opportunities abound in and around the ecologically-rich Kennebec Estuary region. Here are a handful of good ones worth a look-see.

Pownalborough Courthouse: In Dresden, visit the grounds of Maine’s only pre-Revolutionary War courthouse, which dates to 1761. Then strike off on the 3-1/2-mile network of pleasant trails that range from the Kennebec River east to Common Road, all courtesy of the Lincoln County Historical Association.

Thorne Head: The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s 96-acre Thorne Head Preserve in Bath protects more than a half-mile of shoreline along the Kennebec River and Whiskeag Creek. The preserve has 3 miles of footpaths, including a section of the Whiskeag Trail, which extends 5 miles south into town.

Center Pond Preserve: Explore the environs around pretty Center Pond in Phippsburg, from old stone walls and granite outcrops to a beaver bog on 253 acres owned by the Phippsburg Land Trust. This first, largest and most popular property of the trust features a 6-1/2-mile system of trails.

Reid State Park: Saunter along Mile Beach, which became Maine’s first state-owned saltwater beach in 1946, then make a side trip to see Half Mile Beach. Next, head inland on the Little River Trail, which follows the namesake river, and then loop around via the Ski Loop Trail, which skirts an old ice pond.

But wait, there’s more, with miles of trails on lands owned by Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Boothbay Region Land Trust and the state of Maine. Check them out, too, and have fun.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @ Carey Kish.

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