Newbury Neck

Tramps in the woods: Newbury Neck Beach, Rokakis/Shafer easement, and Carter Nature Preserve on Newbury Neck, Surry, Maine
Thursday December 29, 2022

After not getting out for hikes for a while, between holiday preparations and weather and a three day power outage and clean-up thereof, there was a nice (for December) day coming up. We had been thinking our next outing would be to the Meadowbrook Forest, a massive property managed by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust that stretches from rt. 172 in Surry up to rt. 1 in Ellsworth. (It doesn't show up on Google maps, by the way.) But the days are so short and those trails are so long, so we decided to visit Newbury Neck, a part of Surry we had never been to.

Newbury Neck is a long peninsula reaching down between the Blue Hill Peninsula and the Trenton peninsula and Mount Desert Island, with Morgan Bay on the west side and Union River Bay on the east. After a much-needed stop at the transfer station, we continued on rt. 172 and turned right onto Newbury Neck Road. There are various places where you can catch glimpses of Union River Bay, especially with winter-bare trees.  The map showed some public features on the shore, but we didn't see how you were supposed to access them. We'll have to ask around to find out which private roads allow right-of-way to them.

We drove by the public Newbury Neck Beach, but didn't stop as they were doing construction, probably repairs from storm damage to the seawall between the beach and the road.  We drove all the way to where the road became private property, posted "no trespassing". If you want to go all the way to the end, you'll need to make friends with whoever lives there. So we turned around and headed back north, keeping an eye out for the Blue Hill Heritage trust sign we thought we glimpsed on the way down.

And there it was! There was a spot with room for one, or maybe two cars and a path leading across a large field to the shore. According to the sign, this is not a "preserve" but a "conservation easement" granted "through the generosity of Laurie A. Rokakis & Christina L. Shafer" for day, foot use only. Well, it was day and we had feet, so we took off to the shore. The path is very smooth as it goes down a slight decline. The field had had a fall mowing and seemed to be a mix of hay and low-bush blueberry.

A path with a thin covering of snow winds downhill through the short tan grasses and reddish brown blueberry bushes ,with a view across Union River Bay to the Trenton peninsula and Bartlett Island, with the mountains of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island rising behind them.

When you get to the end, you are perched over 10 feet above the rocky shore with no reasonable route for the rest of the way down; this access is for the gorgeous view across Union River Bay to Trenton, Mount Desert Island, and Bartlett Island. The shore was strewn with chunks of ice, and floes of ice floated with the tide, despite the warmish weather since the deep freeze. We strolled back up to the car and continued north.

Union River Bay and the rocks and seaweed on the shore coated with ice and a thin coating of snow. The surface of the water has thin sheets and chunks of ice floating on top. The sky is overcast but bright.

The white trunk of a  birch tree slashes upward in front of the path leading back up the hill to the parking area.

When we passed the Newbury Neck Beach again, it looked like they had finished back-filling the breakwater, and a carload of people were bounding around on the beach, poking at the ice and peering into tidal pools. The tide was pretty high leaving not so much room on the beach, so we continued to Cross Road where we would find the parking area for the Furth Wildlife Sanctuary and Talalay Nature Sanctuary, on one side of the road, and the Carter Nature Preserve on the other. Our plan was to do both loops, but the days are shorter than you might think, so we left Furth/Talalay for another day.

Driving by Newbury Neck Beach, with visitors on the shore, lobster boats anchored in the bay, and the mountains of Acadia in the distance.

The Carter Nature Preserve itself is on the shore of Morgan Bay, but there is a pretty lengthy easement trail to get to it. The first part is an easy-to-moderate trail through woods, and then a long stretch of wide, hard packed easy trail, sprinkled with eight or so very nice benches. One of them had a water bowl for dogs, bring your own water. The trail had a thin covering of busily melting snow, so I was glad for both my walking stick and my waterproof boots. It was lined with mostly young firs and the forests on either side were generously covered with mosses and lichens. There are a few spots as it goes up and then down a hill where it's a bit more difficult, but they were installing steps on the hardest part.

A wide snowy path winding between young fir trees.

A water dish for dogs placed at the end of a fancy bench next to a snowy trail.

As we approached the Preserve itself, we started encountering spots where the storm had knocked over trees across the trail.  The most difficult was a pair of trees that left only about of foot of clearance under them and no easy way over them, just before the sturdy bridge over a stream that empties out into Morgan Bay. Most were very easy to step right over. We made a note that we should drop a line to the Trust in case it wasn't already on their trail repair list.

A pair of tall trees that have fallen directly across the path, lightly dusted with snow.

A flat wooden bridge with a rope handrail that crosses a small stream. There's a single set of footprints in the snow coming across the bridge the other way.

The Preserve is a sweet property with a fairly easy trail that winds through dense woods. Some of the biggest trees were obviously long-dead, but still providing habitat for birds, squirrels, lichens, fungi, and mosses. There weren't many birds to be seen - a Chickadee here and there - but it must be a happening place during the summer breeding season.

The tall, thick stump of what must have been a massive tree rises in a cone from the leaf litter of the forest floor, surrounded by huge old fallen branches and young firs.

At one point, the trail takes you down to and along the rocky shore.  The beach was largely covered by ice and snow and there were lots of small ice floes floating on the water. It has lovely views across Morgan Bay. The low winter sun tinted some of the elaborate clouds pink, and they were reflected in the water and ice. The trail then turns up a rustic stone stairway and past a field to Cross Road, where there's a second parking area which probably holds about two cars. Instead of backtracking along the entire trail, we walked the pretty short distance up Cross Road to where we had left our car.

Morgan Bay with the mostly cloudy sky reflected on the still surface, dotted with chunks of ice. Chunks of snow-covered ice are strewn about on the rocky ledge of the shore.

The jumbled rocks on the shore pile up and morph into a staircase up the bank, with a functional if not elegant handrail.

From there, we proceeded on to Ellsworth, had another fine although late lunch at the Airline Brewing Company, then returned by way of the grocery store.  All in all, a very good day: two errands, two fun visits, and home before dark.


Blagden Preserve and Bass Light

Tramps in The Woods: Indian Point-Blagden Preserve and Bass Light
Friday, November 18, 2022.

It was a fine November day, clear and bright, seasonably cold, but with little wind, so we bundled up and headed to Mount Desert Island (MDI). Much of MDI is Acadia National Park, but today our first objective was the Indian Point-Blagden Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, on the "quiet" west side of MDI.

Indian Point-Blagden Preserve

Handsome old oak trees line the Higgins Farm Road entrance to the preserve. The one on the left has a brass plaque that reads, "Mrs. John H. Abram's grandfather Seth Harding planted these oak trees which came from Ellsworth the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 1865."

The Big Woods trail leads from a spacious parking area through mossy woods down to a private road. The first bit is very easy going - wide, smooth, and well marked. But there a few bits that are a little tougher going, mostly due to tree roots, and a few tiny stretches that are a bit steep. Tree roots mean you have to make a gazillion micro-decisions about where to put your feet. Walking on the roots can be slippery, but walking between them you have to be careful that you don't get your foot caught, so you spend a lot of time looking down rather than looking around. There was another stretch with jumbled rocks, which also require attention to where to put your feet. There are a lot of trees, so there's not much undergrowth except mosses and a few baby trees, mostly where big ones had been blown down. It looked like it was foggy from the gray tree trunks as far as you could see. It's probably a refreshingly shady walk on a hot summer day.

Path winding through the trees on the Big Woods Trail with carpets of moss on either side.

It had snowed then rained the other day, leaving some puddles and mushy bits. We were glad of the sturdy bits of boardwalk through the worst places.

A box-type boardwalk, with covered sides, about eight feet long and reaching across a muddy puddle.

Once you're past the steeper bits, the trail comes into a wide, flat area with ancient apple trees with a gravel road through it. The road was lined with "no parking" signs, which suggests it's a busy place in the summer. But we only ran into one couple as we were heading back to our car. We're so glad we can go to places like this on off-season weekdays so we can have them to ourselves!

A field of asters sporting their fluffy seed heads with a cluster of old apple trees.

On the other side of the road, there are two trail choices. We took the Fern Trail. We were not expecting to see that many ferns in November, but we did come across a few hardy specimens. This trail was very flat and had lots of bits of boardwalk through the marshy areas. It leads down to the shore and then along the gravel/pebble beach for a bit. Behind the curving beach is a fresh water marsh. The tide was out, exposing the golden seaweed covering the intertidal rocks.

A brave and/or hardy fern growing through brown fallen leaves and pine needles.

A marsh, in late autumn russets and brown, peeking out from behind the mounded up pebbles of the beach.

Bright yellow seaweed draping the exposed rocks in the intertidal zone.

We never saw the return loop, but we didn't look that hard since we found where it hooked up with the Shore Trail. The Shore Trail follows along the rocky edge of the ocean. The characteristic shoreline rock of MDI is the beautiful pink granite, but the exposed bedrocks on this bit of the island is Ellsworth schist, handsome in its own special swirly, layered way.

Huge slabs of Ellsworth schist slant up towards the sky at the edge of the ocean.

A closer look at the Ellsworth schist shows its wavy layers. This piece has a small seam of white quartz at the bottom of a rainwater puddle.

This preserve is supposed to be great for birding, but, well, it's November, so mostly we saw Chickadees and gulls. But there are a few benches along the trail where you can watch the ocean and keep a lookout for osprey and other coastal birds, and maybe harbor seals basking on the rocks. It was great day for watching the ocean. The air was clear and you could see islands dotting the horizon, the most distant ones seeming to float the air just above the water.

When we got back to the car, backtracking on the Shore Trail and Big Woods Trail, we snarfed down a few granola bars and then proceeded down Indian Point towards Bass Harbor. Our plan was to grab some lunch in Bass Harbor, but the places we had hoped to go were closed for the season. That happens around here. As we passed through town, a huge white-tailed deer buck stepped into the road in front of us. We told him that he should be wearing a safety vest, but he paid no attention to us.

Bass Harbor Light Station

We followed the road down to the Bass Light, first lit to guide mariners around the Bass Harbor sandbar and the treacherous rocks in 1858. This had been a U.S. Coast Guard facility, but they transferred it to the National Park Service when the light was fully automated. There's no access to the interior, in fact there are signs saying that it's a "private residence" but also posted "U.S. Property No Trespassing". But you can go down a narrow paved roadway and stand next to the small house and connector to the cylindrical brick light house itself. It's topped with a glass and metal cupola housing a Fresnel lens. At the base are two bells that had been used on foggy days - they had to be rung every 10 seconds! Various gadgets were adopted so the lighthouse keeper didn't have to stand outside for hours on end to ring it manually and eventually they were replaced by bell buoys.

The lighthouse, connector, and a corner of the keeper's house, with a view miles out over the bay.

A large brass bell mounted at the base of the lighthouse. It says, "Blake Bell Co. U.S. Light House Establishment. 1891." The frame holding it has a sign that reads, "Please don't hit the bell."

A slightly smaller bell mounted in a rusting tower fixed to the rocky cliff edge. It says, "U.S.C.G. 1966" It, too, has a sign saying, "Please don't hit the bell."

On the other side of the parking lot is a trail that takes you down for a picturesque view from the other side. The first stretch is a flat, wide walkway of packed gravel, but any hopes of getting a wheelchair someplace interesting disappear with a series of stepped terraces ending at a set of stairs. The stairs wind down the steep face of the cliff, with little platforms where you can step aside to catch your breath on your way back up or look out at the ocean, and dump you out onto some stone steps. But to actually see the lighthouse, you have to clamber out onto the giant pink granite rocks. I only climbed out enough to catch a glimpse, and then we clambered back up.

The deceptively inviting hard path to the cliff-side lighthouse view.

Steep but sturdy stairs leading down the cliff face with the ocean just below.

The rest of the staircase leading to steps made of rough granite blocks and then jumbled boulders and the ocean beyond.

Jumbles of pink granite with the ocean to the left and the lighthouse peeking out from the trees at the top of the cliff.

English Pub

We were really hungry at this point. We decided our best bet was to head back towards home and look for a place in Ellsworth. We settled on the Airline Brewing Company pub on Maine Street on the way down to the river, which we had driven by many times. Its decor was a very good rendition of a traditional English pub, reminding us of those we had visited, although very tiny. They served actual English-style beers, a delightful change from the aggressively hopped American craft beers you find everywhere these days, and had several cask-conditioned options and more on tap. I ordered bangers and mash and Jon got a cobb salad, and we finished up with pumpkin cheesecake and another Special Old Bitter. (Why do they bring two spoons? If Jon wanted some, he could have ordered it himself. The second spoon went unused.)

The front corner of the Airline Brewing pub with red leather seats and dark woodwork.

A slice of pumpkin cheesecake with a fancy dollop of whipped cream, and two spoons.

A stretch of Main Street in Ellsworth at dusk. The Airline Brewing company is on the left and the Grand theater, lit up in neon, on the right.

And then we drove the rest of the way back with the last light of the day. It was full dark when we arrived. The kitties were so glad to see us - they were sure we had abandoned them forever.



Mariaville and Taft Point

Tramps in the Woods: Mariaville Falls Preserve and Taft Point Preserve
Thursday, November 10, 2022

The forecast called for another September-like day in the middle of November, so it seemed like a good day to bring lunch and get an early start so we could go for walks in two places. We picked two properties managed by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy - our first of theirs - one inland and one on the coast.

Mariaville Falls Preserve

The first thing you do when you go to a new place is find out how the locals say it so you don't embarrass yourself. It's pronounced mar-EYE-ah-vill (like "the wind calls Mariah".) But then we didn't run into a single person and didn't get to show off our lack of ignorance. But that meant we had this lovely property all to ourselves!

This is a fairly large chuck of land along the West Branch of the Union River, upstream from the massive Graham Lake, but the only trails are down by the river. From the nice parking area at the end of a gravel road, the trail follows the top of a ridge forested in birch, pine, cedar, and oak.

A shady grove of tall White Pines with a sunlit clearing in the distance.

The "unimproved" trail is quite easy, but there are a number of places that looked like they would be dicey in wet weather, and some did have plank bridges across the worst places. At the end of the ridge, there is a winding trail down to the river shore. Somebody had obviously cleared the slippery fallen leaves from the steepest parts, so that was nice!

The trail winding down the ridge where a plank bridge crosses a stream.

At the bottom, you turn right to follow the spur trail upstream along the sedate Union River. Sedate, that is until you hit the bottom of the stretch of falls, when it turns out it's pretty feisty. There are a series of falls every 10 or 20 feet, each getting a bit taller. The rock here is not the smooth granite of the shore, but a layered rock that reminded us of the rocks lining Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, N.Y. At the highest point of this part of the trail is a nice bench with a great view of the biggest falls in the series. While this is touted as an extremely clean stream, the water was markedly tea-brown, no doubt from all the fallen leaves steeping in it.

This tree may have fallen over, but it didn't give up: it just tried again across the path.

The first set of falls and the characteristic flat rocks the river runs through.

The bench at the head of the falls. Note the strands of rope between two trees: they probably wouldn't stop you from falling into the falls, so more of a suggestion to not go there.

From there the trail continues to a bend in the river, where it once again looks serene. The roar of the water from around the bend would probably tip you off that the next stretch was not navigable, but they also have a sign posted.

The glass-like surface of the Union River upstream from the falls reflecting the trees on the other shore.

We then backtracked on the spur and completed the riverside part of the loop and the spur that goes to the preserve's boundary. Some of this part is wide and smooth - probably enough for wheelchairs or baby strollers, although the path back up to the second parking might be a little steep.

Wide smooth trail through trees along the banks of the Union River.

Trail up to the second parking area. A few large boulders are positioned at the top to discourage vehicular traffic.

We followed the road from the second parking area to where our car was and enjoyed some nice sandwiches. We then hopped in the car and headed to Gouldsboro on the coast.

Taft Point Preserve

The Taft Point Preserve has two loop trails from the parking area. There were two other cars in the parking lot when we arrived, but only one when we finished the Flanders Bay trail and then only ours when we finished the Jones Cove loop. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, though, since we didn't see or hear the other visitors. One of the features of this preserve is an interesting intertidal zone, but the tide was high when we were there, so we'll have to save that for another visit.

The brochure mentions that there is well on the Flanders Bay trail, but we actually saw two: one round and one square, both with fences around them to keep folks from falling in. Maybe the square one was a foundation for something rather than a well?

Downhill from the trail, a small round stone well is trying to hide amongst the fallen leaves

A square hole in the ground lined with mossy rocks. A scattering of brown leaves float on the surface, which is reflecting the sky and tree branches above.

We came across an amazing tree, completely covered in burls. It had obviously been a while since it had put out new leaves, but it was still standing proud and beautiful, so I hesitate to call it dead.

A burly tree reaching its top two branches out as if to hug the sky.

The trail winds down through spruce and oak to the shore. There are a few places with two-plank boardwalks across areas that must get wet, but they were bone dry on our walk. The trail follows the shore for a while until you come to a beautiful bridge over a small ravine, featuring a lovely bench so you can sit and admire the ocean. There are amazing views of the mountains at Acadia National Park. No pictures though - the sun was too low and shining right into the camera. You'll just have to go and see for yourself. Shortly after there's a sturdy set of stairs down to a pebbly beach.

A wooden bridge with hefty handrails with the ocean in the background.

A bench built in the middle of a bridge. Its back bows out so its very deep in the middle. The back slats get taller in the middle, and there's a block of wood underneath you can pull out it if the seat is too high for you.

Sturdy stairs down to the beach.

We didn't linger long on the beach, but headed back up through the woods to the parking area so we'd have enough time to do the Jones Cove loop. This trail included numbered signposts for a self-guided nature walk. There was a set of laminated cards hanging at the welcome signpost at the parking lot that you could borrow as well as QR codes on each of the posts. On shore part of the trail, there was a tantalizing glimpse of a fan-shaped sandy beach, but the trail turned back up before getting there. Access must be from the adjacent private land.

Looking through trees to a sandy beach a bit down the shore.

This loop passed by several moss and lichen covered boulders, some sporting some small ferns, always a high point of any trek.

A large rock in the woods covered with moss, lichens, some fallen leaves, and a few small ferns.

All in all, this a delightful small preserve with easy trails and lovely views. We'll have to go back when the sun is higher in the sky and the tide is out.


Tennis Preserve, Deer Isle, Maine

Tramps in the woods: Edgar M. Tennis Preserve, Deer Isle, Maine
Tuesday November 8, 2022

Taking advantage of a nice November day, we headed out to the Tennis Preserve on Deer Isle, a reserve managed by the Island Heritage Trust and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. It was a little nippy with a brisk wind, so we wanted something more forest than beach. The trails were more primitive that I had assumed, and so many, many rocks and roots, some hidden beneath fallen leaves, making this hike moderate rather than easy. But we did get a little warning: the parking spots were even rougher than the trails.

An olive green Subaru is pulled up over rocks and tree roots. The area is identified as a parking lot by the small sign on the right that says P.

The preserve is second-growth coastal woods, with lots of spruce and thick moss coverings on the ground, dotted here and there with large glacially-deposited granite boulders. The woods are tangled with fallen trees, some with huge fans of roots that tore up when the trees toppled, carrying the large stones they had wrapped around. I imagine much of the maintenance work goes into clearing fallen trees from the trail.

A large toppled tree with a huge circle of roots sticking up into the air. Grasses and mosses have started to grow where the tree used to stand.
A grove of spruce trees separated by soft mounds of mosses and lichens, lit by dappled sunlight.

We chose the Pickering Cove-side long loop. The trail starts off on what used to be a road to the farmhouse, but splits off into winding paths at the old foundation. The house must have been so tiny. It's hard to imagine spending long Maine winters there in such a remote location.

Grasses and small trees encroach on slumping hole in the ground, lined with rocks and some pieces of dressed granite.

A spur of the trail leads to the Toothaker Family Cemetery, not on Preserve land, but respectful visitors are welcome.  There's a nice sign about the history of the early European settlers of Deer Isle and the family buried here.

Looking through a wire fence gate with scrollwork decorations on top to an oak leaf strewn cemetery.

A bit further on, you find yourself at the edge of the ocean. There's a big drop-off down to a boulder-strewn shore. It looked like treacherous going, and there was a fierce, cold wind, so we stayed on the uphill trail and made no attempt to clamber down. It was still a pretty steep drop towards the ocean and the trail is narrow and slanty, so of course I had a bit of a battle with vertigo/paralyzing fear of falling. It would have been easy with my emotional support walking stick.

A view through fallen branches and reddish fall grasses to a stretch of ocean with a tree-covered island on the other side.

We stopped at few openings to Pickering Cove and Jericho Bay to take in the gorgeous view, but not for very long: that strong, cold wind encouraged us to keep going.

A rocky ledge pokes out of the water. The near side is massive hunks of lichen-covered boulders. The far side is a long tree covered island.
Looking out over a rocky shore to Jericho Bay, dotted with islands as far as you can see.
Looking down Pickering Cove across a sunlit rocky shore.

We should probably come back and check out the Southeast Harbor-side loop trail, and maybe the Pickering Cove short loop someday, but the days are really short around now, so we skipped them this time.