The Annie Sturgis Wildflower Sanctuary is a 40-acre parcel of land along the Kennebec River owned by the New England Wildflower Society (www.newfs.org). Two loop trails wend their way through pine, hemlock and mixed hardwood forests, travel along and cross over a small, winding stream and even climb Mount Tom, a small hill at the heart of the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is noted for its stands of wild ginger, rare in Maine. The Sanctuary is open April 1 through October 1, dawn until dusk. Dogs and other pets are not allowed.
From the Cony Rotary, head north on Bangor Street (Riverside Drive/ Route 201). After crossing the Vassalboro town line, continue north about 1.7 miles and turn left on the Webber Pond Road. Turn right at the stop sign, onto Cushnoc Road, and go north about 0.4 miles. The Wildflower Sanctuary is on your left, marked by a wooden sign that is somewhat hidden by trees. Park alongside the road.
Total Distance: about 2 ½ miles (loops)
Time needed: 1-1 ½ hours
A large sign nailed to a tree laying out the rules of the Sanctuary marks the beginning of the trail. Go around the tree to the right, and follow the wide, grassy lane between two rows of pines and mixed hardwoods (there is a fair amount of poison ivy along this part of the trail, particularly near the beginning). The trails are marked by small metal disks labeled “New England Wildflower Society” nailed to the trees. The trail heads downhill somewhat between two farms. As it approaches a hay meadow straight ahead, the trail turns to the left and into the woods. Down a steep hill, the trail comes to an old, dilapidated bridge, with a path down into the drainage alongside the bridge to the left (this was easily crossed in dry weather; in spring or after a heavy rain it may be a different story). The trail heads back uphill and comes to a fork in the road, marked by a wooden box. The right fork leads to the Ginger Trail and Mount Tom and the left fork leads to the River Trail.
The Ginger Trail and Mount Tom
Distance: ¾ mile loop
Time needed: 20-30 minutes
From the sign-in box, take the right fork and follow the narrow track of pine-needle covered dirt uphill to another fork in the road, the left arrow points to Mount Tom, the right to the Ginger Trail (just before this intersection on the left, somewhat hidden by trees, another arrow points to the other end of the River trail). Mount Tom is a short hike up to the top of a small hill, where grand old stone chimney marks the location of a log cabin built here by the Sturgis family. Just beyond the chimney a bench offers a spot of rest and a view (though shrouded in trees) of the Kennebec River. The Ginger Trail heads down hill to another damaged bridge, again climbing down into and out of the stream bed on a trail along the bridge. The trail continues uphill and around through the woods, looping around once more to the out bridge and uphill to the fork.
The River Loop Trail
Distance: 1 mile
Time needed: 20-30 minutes
Just below the fork in the road marking Mount Tom to the left and the Ginger Trail to the right, the River Loop heads off to the left (as you're facing uphill), following along the right bank of a stream for a distance, before crossing it on sand bars and climbing up out of the drainage, doubling back along the stream on the opposite bank. The trail follows the stream, with a fence on the right side, for a distance before coming to a fork. A right turn takes you out to the railroad tracks and steeply down to the Kennebec. The left fork leads back to the sign-in box and from there back to Cushnoc Road along the initial trail.
The Sanctuary makes a nice hike for older (seven or eight-year-old) kids, long enough to be a bit of a challenge, but not overwhelming. My four-year-olds managed, but it involved a lot of coaxing (on my part), whining (on theirs) and the ever-present lollipop bribes. The trail is definitely not stroller-accessible. The climb up Mount Tom, with the old chimney and resting bench offers a bit of a fun destination.
Contact the New England Wildflower Society for opportunities to donate to or volunteer for the Sanctuary.