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.

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