Monday, April 28, 2014

Hikes in Harpswell: Mitchell Field -- And First Lobster Roll of the Year!

If you drive south from Brunswick on Rt 123, and just keep going, eventually you'll get to a part of Maine where your GPS will simply show you driving over green grass, because apparently Harpswell Neck is one of the places where modern maps just don't include.  This little finger of land pushes far out into Casco Bay.  To the east is Merriconeag Sound, to the west is Middle Bay, and between them, Harpswell Neck balances on a narrow ridge of land.

Near the end of the Neck is Mitchell Field.  Until recently, Brunswick was home to a Naval Air Station.  Locals remember fondly the drone of propellers from the squadron of sub-hunters that was stationed there.  The station was an important base during WWII and in the cold war; and all those planes needed a lot of fuel.  Until 1992, fuel came in by sea, at Mitchell Field.  If you look at a chart of Middle Bay, there is a two-way shipping lane entering from the Gulf of Maine; incoming on the east of Whaleboat Island; outbound on the west.

Two way shipping lanes for Mitchell Field.
Now the land belongs to the town of Harpswell, and it's open to the public.  Although you won't find wilderness here, you will find sweeping views of Middle Bay and the Goslings; the Community Garden, picnic tables, a bandstand, and a lovely small beach.  Of course this is accompanied by some creepy old buildings, a pier that's starting to deteriorate, and too much pavement.  But this spot is worth a stop nonetheless, with a loop of about 1.5 miles to keep you fit.  It's dog-friendly too!

A great little beach.  No lifeguards.

Creepy old buildings.

Not so scenic.

Lots of pavement -- but great for bikes I guess!
Last week I headed out to Mitchell Field, and if I'm going that far, why not keep heading south to one of my favorites -- Dolphin Marina?

Potts Harbor.  Pretty quiet in this reluctant spring.

View to the east.

View to the west (and Sarah, always smiling!)
Dolphin Marina is a local favorite, but it's no secret that they have the best fish chowder (accompanied by a blueberry muffin, of course) in the state.  Until a few years ago, this was a tiny place with a line.  Now, it's a big place (in high season, there's still a line).  When the restaurant expanded, it was built as green as possible; land was put into conservation; and the marina is certified as a Green Marina. 

A Maine favorite -- Dolphin Marina fish chowder with a blueberry muffin.  You.Must.Eat.This.

Yummy roll.  Cold with a warm buttered bun; no fooling around.  $19.95.

My neighbor's meal -- split lobster tails.
 Dolphin Marina perches on the end of Pott's Point, and it's a real working marina as well as a restaurant.  A meal there always promises a great view, and a walk around the grounds puts you at the ocean's edge.  Terrific food; terrific views; good people running the place.  Really, does it get better?

The friendly bar.  Usually we just sit here.

Dolphin Marina is summer.  What else says Maine?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hikes in Harpswell: Skolfield Preserve

Merricoonegan Farm from the trail.   Classic Yankee solution to housing in the 19th century.
The farmhouse in the background.
Lucky me.  Not only do I live in Maine, I'm right next door to Harpswell, one of the best kept-secrets in the state.  The town is full of history, nature, and great food.  Harpswell reaches out into the Gulf of Maine with its peninsulas and islands, and offers quiet coves and boiling narrows within its boundaries.  If you haven't been there yet, shame on you.  If you have, you know what I'm talking about.

This month is pretty busy at work, but I still want to get out and enjoy Maine's oceans.  So I'm going to spend the month (among other things) highlighting hikes in Harpswell.  Think all the coastal land is private and developed?  Think again.  Harpswell has a ton of open space, much of it dog-friendlyThis guide is a great place to start, and I'll highlight some of my favorite spots here.  Hope you enjoy it.

Skolfield Shores preserve is right on the border between Harpswell and Brunswick, and it's preserved by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.  You can't miss it as you drive south from Brunswick on 123 -- look for the mammoth Merricoonegan Farm on your right (this mish-mash of building is gigantic).  The area is known as a "carry place", and is thought to have been used by natives to portage their boats between Middle Bay and  Harpswell Cove -- it's very low, making portage easy.  Merricoonegan (sometimes merrucoonegan) in fact means "swift portage".  The upper end of Harpswell Neck is known as Merriconeag; derived from this word. 

Who can resist?

A piece of marsh, probably moved by ice.  Note the ribbed mussels embedded in it.

It was a bit windy.  Note the standing waves in the tidepool.

Mudflats fill Middle Bay at low tide.

A quahog, probably opened by a gull.  Looks like he left some behind.

I always wonder about this boat house.
The trail leads to three interesting habitats -- Middle Bay mudflats, hemlock forest (so common in Midcoast Maine), and saltmarsh.  Middle Bay has extensive mudflats, and is one of the places I'll be hunting for horseshoe crabs when they come ashore to spawn next month (or in June).  It's known to be home to one of the few populations in the state (which is the northern limit of their range).  With its calm waters and soft shore, I can see this would be an attractive place if you're a  mama horseshoe crab looking to unload some eggs.  The flats are also completely covered in birds at low tide -- probably a great place to see migrating shore birds in fall. 

The trails lead on to the hemlock forest, where towering hemlocks cast a cool green light below.  Harpswell has no shortage of hemlocks -- at least if we can keep the woolly adelgid out of the state.
Those signs you see as you drive into Maine from New Hampshire, telling you it's illegal to import firewood (including for campfires)?  This is why we see those signs.  It'd be sad to see this preserve, and all the other lands with hemlock forests, decimated. 

The salt marsh at the end of the trail is where the Native Americans would have carried to and from.  This whole bay is ringed by marshes (in fact the one I study with my class is right across the bay).   It's common to see marshes starting at the end of bays, and growing out to the mouth.  Water moves more slowly up in these bays, so sedimentation rates are high -- a natural place for a marsh to begin.  As marsh plants establish themselves, the trap more sediment, and the marsh grows itself.

This was a grand old tree.

I couldn't have made those holes more perfect myself.

Monster dead hemlock next to monster live hemlock.

Lots of woodpecker activity.

Who could resist a bridge in the woods?

This tree reminds me of the hobbit!

Baby hemlocks in a forest clearing -- fighting to get to the sun first.
There's a second part of this preserve -- the Alfred Skolfield preserve -- just up the road.  That part isn't dog-friendly, so I've never been there.  Maybe someday I'll run there from work and explore on my own.  Until then, it's on to another hike in Harpswell.

GETTING THERE:  From Brunswick, drive south on Rt 123.  Just after the Harpswell town line, you'll see a massive farmhouse on your right.  Turn in at the drive; parking is on your left at the kiosk.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Treasure, about to have her winter coat put on.
This week, we said goodbye to a friend -- our Compac 19 sailboat, Treasure.  Like so many goodbyes, it was bittersweet.  On the one hand, we'll miss her steady pace and easy launching -- 45 minutes, a minimal amount of sweat, and splash -- she's in the water and we're sailing off.  On the other hand, we really don't have the time you need to be a good parent to a boat -- not with our being up on the island all of June and July.  We spent some time participating in the Indecision Olympics, but we finally decided to find a good home for her.

A Compac is a great little boat.  They're small and easy to trailer, but tough.  For many years, we were members of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, where an old salt named Walt was quite a fixture.  Walt was a sailor from way back, and had once been a notorious drunk.  It's okay for me to say it; he would tell you himself, and was a recovering alcoholic of many years when we knew him.  He was a badass sailor; winning many a race in his Bayfield.  Before that boat, he had a Compac 16.  Legend has it he sailed across the Gulf Stream in that Compac 16 -- at least four times.  Of course, he was drunk every time, but that speaks even more to the qualities of the boat.  When we starting thinking about a trailer-sailer, we figured Walt was a good recommendation for a Compac.

And Treasure lived up to our expectations!  From our first time launching her, she's brought us adventure. For five years, she took great care of us.  Although we're away all of June and July, we were able to swing a mooring at Paul's Marina in Casco Bay in August and September.  There were many a great day sailing south past the Goslings in the morning, then running with the wind as we headed home.  Of course, she wasn't the fastest or most nimble boat out there, but she did the trick  And she trailered ike a dream.  A terrific week on Buzzard's Bay introduced my niece to sailing and allowed my brother a day out under the sun sailing for the first time for many years.

But we always knew Treasure was a temporary boat for us.  In fact, we had a secret name for her -- Meantime, as in, the boat we had in the meantime -- until we're able to have our forever boat.  (We never told the boat that was her new name.  It's never a good idea to tell a boat she's not the perfect match for you.)  And last year, we found we didn't even have time to sail in August and September, since we only have those months to work on the house here in Maine, and the porch needed to be renovated.  So we decided it was time to find Treasure a home.  Monday, we listed her on Sailboat Listings and Craigslist; thinking we'd have plenty of time to dig her out from under the snow and ice that still encased her, uncover her, and give her a good rinse.  After all, the economy isn't that great, and we've watched boats sit on the market for months, so we obviously would have plenty of time to get her ready to sell.

We were wrong.  It turns out Compacs are highly sought on the market -- at least well equipped, clean Compacs.  It took about an hour before the first buyer called, and the calls just kept coming.  So yesterday we passed Treasure on to a new owner.  It took quite an effort to send her on her woay once we accepted an offer.  I had started the day with a 20 mile run, training for my upcoming marathon.  Damon was at work all day, working wonders with other field station directors from around the Gulf of Maine.  So it was up to me to get the boat on its way.  Luckily it was the first warm day of the year, because I hadn't been able to budge the 2-3 inches of ice surrounding her the day before.  By the time Treasure's new owner arrived, it looked just possible to extricate the boat.  He and I spent about an hour chipping ice away from her, then another hour getting the boat hooked up and moved out of her dry mooring.

I'm happy to say we got most of our money back from her.  We stashed that chunk of change in our "forever boat" account, which is quietly growing every month.  But even better than getting a good price, we sent hert to a new owner who'll truly enjoy her and use her to the fullest.  Boats don't like to sit; they like to be used!

Fair winds, Treasure!  We hope to see you out there!