Midcoast Preserve Astounds with History, Beauty
July 21, 2009 -
BATH -- Travel a couple of miles north from downtown Bath, and you'll find the quiet and scenic environs of Thorne Head Preserve, a 96-acre property owned and managed by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.
Bounded by Whiskeag Creek to the west and the Kennebec River to the east, Thorne Head offers a pleasant escape into the coastal woods, with three miles of hiking on eight trails.
To reach Thorne Head, follow High Street straight out of town. You'll find the trailhead where the road dead ends. A kiosk has maps and information on a number of hiking options, depending on time and desire.
For a quick walk, take the Overlook Trail a mile out and back to the viewpoint that looks out over The Narrows to Days Ferry.
For a longer loop hike, follow Landfill Lane past a freshwater marsh. Beyond, take the Traverse Trail to North Creek Bridge Trail and down to the water's edge. At a junction detour left for a while, hiking through groves of large white pines and hemlocks to a footbridge, then double back.
Continue on the Narrows Trail, following the shoreline on the level before traversing across a steep hillside. The path leads through mature forest scattered with boulders, and numerous outlooks over the river beckon.
At The Narrows, the trail turns gently uphill to the scenic overlook. Plop down on the stone bench and enjoy the view. Take out your preserve brochure and consider the ecology and history of the land you have just walked.
The Kennebec Estuary is a world-class fishery, an important breeding ground for a wide variety of marine life, including striped bass and the endangered short-nosed sturgeon. Abenaki Indians traded along the river corridor and gathered wild rice on the banks of Thorne Head.
"King's Pines" were logged here for the British Navy. Stone walls offer evidence of land once cleared for farming. And the first licensed ferry operation on the Kennebec River was established here.
As you make your way back to the car on the wide Overlook Trail, interesting side trips are possible: to Murderer's Cave, Sunset Pond and Old Ferry Road.
Nearby Sewall Woods, a 90-acre parcel bordering the Whiskeag River, is also worth a visit. From Thorne Head, drive south on High Street for a mile, then turn onto Whiskeag Road and proceed to the trailhead. The half-mile trail follows stone walls through a forest dominated by old field white pines. It's a delightful loop on a quiet, needle-covered path.
The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust is a member-supported, nonprofit organization "dedicated to the conservation of the natural, historic, scenic, cultural, and agricultural resources of the Kennebec Estuary."
"As one of more than 90 land trusts in Maine, we believe in protecting our natural resources, wildlife habitat, our quality of place," said Alicia Heyburn, outreach and communications director for the trust. "These activities are proven to enhance the economic vitality of our towns. Businesses and residents in Bath recognize that what we're doing is making this area a better place."
Regarding Thorne Head, "a lot of voices said, 'We want this,' and helped make protection a reality in 2000." It's now the trust's signature preserve, and its most well used.
"I love the rapid change from downtown to the quiet of the woods," Heyburn said. "It's accessible yet a bit rough, not very tamed."
The trust, started in 1989 as the Lower Kennebec Regional Land Trust, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. More than 1,651 acres have been protected among nine preserves, from the Weber-Kelly Preserve in Georgetown to Merrymeeting Fields in Woolwich; and from Bonyun Preserve on Westport Island to Green Point Preserve in West Bath. And in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Wetlands Protection Coalition, the trust has helped protect 15,000 acres in the region.
New this year is the Whiskeag Trail, a five-mile multi-use pathway that will connect the Bath YMCA with Thorne Head. The project is a joint effort between the trust, the city of Bath and the YMCA. A Maine Conservation Corps trail crew and volunteers are hard at work on the trail this summer. Completion is expected in time for the Tip to Tail event on Sept. 19, an inaugural hike and celebration of the new path.
"We are all stewards," said Heyburn, and as such, the trust encourages members to join them in support of their important mission. For more information, go to www.kennebecestuary.org online or call 442-8400.
CAREY KISH, Portland Press Herald, July 19, 2009
Regions: Mid Coast
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