Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tyler Pond Wildlife Management Area


Tyler Pond Wildlife Management Area is a 128-acre parcel of land manged by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on the border of Augusta and Manchester. Although the route to the pond, along a wide and rutted ATV trail most of the way, is less than picturesque, Tyler Pond, a small kettle pond, completely undeveloped along the shoreline and clear down to the gravel bottom, offers a worthwhile destination.

Getting There
Take Civic Center Drive north from Augusta. From the light at the I-95 on-ramp, continue north 3.1 miles and turn left onto Summerhaven Road. Tyler Pond Wildlife Management Area is on the left in about 0.8 miles, marked by a brown WMA sign and blue boat launch sign. If you can squeeze your car past a couple of sizable puddles, there is a spacious parking area just inside on the left.

The Trail
Distance: about ½ mile (one-way)
Difficulty: moderate
Time Needed: ½ hour

From the parking area, follow a wide, rutted dirt road into a forest of tall oak, pine and birch. Although the road is pocked with several large, deep puddles, there is ample room to go around the edges and stay high and dry. A few hundred feet along, the trail forks. The left fork is the ATV trail; the right leads to Tyler Pond. After the fork, the trail becomes a bit narrower and cozier, though it becomes severely eroded as it travels downhill. This road-like bit of trail ends in an open, level area, with a non-motorized trail continuing in the woods and downhill a short distance to the pond. A small carry-in boat launch is on the left. The trail continues along a lovely, wide hump of land that juts into the pond. The top of the hump is fairly level and open in the understory and carpeted in pine needles, offering a delightful picnic spot. A narrow, unmarked trail heads to the right and follows along the shore of the pond a few hundred feet before petering out.

Kid-Friendly Factor
Tyler Pond Wildlife Management Area is a great place to hike with kids—a short walk that even the shortest of legs should be able to handle (and if all else fails, it's not far to carry little ones), with a great destination. Ponds are always a big attraction for little ones who inevitable want to throw in sticks or rocks, and the wide, open finger of land offers plenty of opportunity for safe but exciting exploration.

Getting Involved
Contact the Manchester Conservation Commission for volunteer opportunities at Tyler Pond.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

West Gardiner Nature Trail

West Gardiner

The West Gardiner Nature Trail provides access to a parcel of land owned by the town of West Gardiner. The trail was built as part of an Eagle Scout project in 1995 by Boy Scout Troop 615. The scouts continue to enhance and maintain the trails.

Getting There
From Gardiner, take High Street/Highland Avenue 5.3 miles. Turn left onto Spears Corner Road (across from Townhouse Road). The trail begins on the right side of the road 0.2 miles down, just beyond the West Gardiner Town Office, across from the playground of the Helen Thompson School. A large sign marking the trailhead is visible from the road. There is room to park along side the road. Maps of the area are available in the town office.

The Trails
Total time needed: 1-2 hours

Eagle Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles (one-way)
Difficulty: Moderate

From the sign, the trail heads into a forest of pine, fir on a wide dirt path. It crosses a small stream over a length of blue pipe, traveling through a wet area a short distance before rising uphill to drier ground through a pine and fir forest. A right fork leads to Camp Dirt, an open area with a fire pit. Staying to the left, the Eagle trail climbs uphill gradually through a pine and poplar forest, crossing planks trhough a wet area. The trail crosses a stone wall, angles left and comes to a T intersection with a wider, more road-like trail. A right turn leads to the West Gardiner Transfer Station, while a left continues on the Eagle Trail, across a powerline corridor and into a dark forest of mixed hardwood, fir and pine. The trail is fairly level, though it passes through some wet areas that appear quite well-used by ATVs. The trail comes to a left fork leading to the ATV trailhead, while straight continues on the Eagle Trail. Another left fork leads to Cat Camp, a fire ring with a log bench tucked into the woods. A little farther along Eagle Trail ends at a four-way intersection. A right turn leads to Porcupine Trail, a left to Snake hill, topped with a covered shelter 100 or so paces into the woods, and a privy just downhill, and straight ahead is the Bog Trail.

Bog Trail
Distance: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: moderate

From the four-way intersection at the terminus of Eagle Trail, the Bog Trail heads downhill toward the Beaver Bog at the southwest corner of the property. As the trail approaches the bog, a left fork leads a short distance along the bog's edge in the woods before dead-ending. Turning right at the fork the Bog Trail crosses a wooden bridge, climbs uphill through the dark pine woods and out onto the pipeline corridor. The trail follows the corridor about 100 yards to the intersection with the Porcupine Trail on the right.

Porcupine Trail
Distance: 0.2 miles
Difficulty: moderate

The Porcupine Trail connects the two ends of the Bog Trail, forming a loop. From the far end of the Bog Trail, along the pipeline corridor, the Porcupine Trail goes right into the woods, traveling downhill though a hemlock grove, across a small stream on a wooden bridge, then uphill again to the four-way intersection with Bog Trail, Eagle Trail and the spur to Snake Hill.

Kid-Friendly Factor
The deep dark woods along the West Gardiner Nature Trail as well as the various side spurs to points of interest can make this trail a thrilling adventure for older kids, and the full distance should be easily managed by the eight and older crowd. The trails are wide and level, with plenty of room for walking side-by-side with little ones, and not a lot of up-and-down climbing. Though not difficult, the trail does not offer options for looping back to the trailhead if smaller legs grow tired partway through.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Smithfield Plantation


The Smithfield Plantation is a peaceful preserve of 103 acres, owned by the town of Litchfield and maintained by the Smithfield Plantation Trust. Two loop trails wind their way through the lovely mixed hardwood forest, dominated by American beech and accented with numerous stunningly large multi-topped white pines. Most of the trail is far enough from the road noise of Route 126 to provide hikers a chance to quietly commune with the birds and trees.

Getting There
From downtown Gardiner, take Route 126 east west {correction 6/28/10} about 9.3 miles. Turn left at the blinking light by the Country Store, onto the Hallowell Road. Follow the Hallowell Road about 1.5 miles; turn right onto the Libby Road and follow it approximately one mile. A small parking area on left with a large white and green sign and a kiosk marks the Smithfield Plantation trailhead.

The Trails
Both trails begin to the left of the sign. The trails are well-marked with yellow blazes and appear incredibly well-maintained, with sturdy bridges over all of the streams and wet areas, a couple of benches for resting, and even a picnic area with tables and an outhouse partway around the main trail.

The Main Loop
Distance: approximately 2-3 miles (loop)

(Note: Although this trail is labeled as being one mile long, I believe it is at least twice that).
Difficulty: moderate
Time needed: 1+ hours

From the parking lot, head into the woods under a pleasing canopy of birch and beech trees. A short distance in, a small interpretive sign gives a short history of Litchfield. As the trail approaches a pipeline corridor, the Vernal Pool trail forks off to the left. Continue straight across the corridor and into the woods. The trail comes to a small picnic area, with an outhouse, two picnic tables and a small amphitheater, with rows of benches climbing the hill above a podium. From here the trail heads down to a wet area crossed by a series of bog bridges. After two more water crossings on sturdy wooden bridges, near which two amazingly large pines grow, the trail climbs uphill again, angling to the left. Near the top of the rise, a bench provides a resting spot, and another interpretive sign shows images of some of the wildlife to be found in the forest.
The trail heads downhill to another bridge crossing a small stream. Just before the bridge a spur trail heads off to the right to overlook the bog. This spur travels a couple hundred yards to an arm of land extending to the edge of a large wetland filled with cattails. A bench here allows for quiet contemplation of view (during the non-buggy seasons!). Back on the main trail, the trail crosses the stream and travels between two small hills and crosses another bridge. The other end of the Vernal Pool Trail joins the main trail from the left. The trail crosses one more small bridge, and heads to the parking area.

The Vernal Pool Trail
Distance: approximately ½ mile
Difficulty: moderate
Time needed: ½ hour

To take the Vernal Pool Trail, begin on the main trail, to the left of the sing. Just before the main trail crosses a pipeline corridor, the Vernal Pool Trail begins on the left. The trail follows a large old stone wall for a couple hundred yards. The angles uphill to the right, while the trail continues downhill and to the left, with its namesake vernal pool straight ahead and a blue bench overlooking the seasonal pool. The trail re-joins the main loop after a short distance.

Kid-Friendly Factor
The narrow, bumpy trail is unsuitable for strollers, but the trail is a good distance for little hikers, although when I took my four-year-olds on both the main loop and the Vernal Pond loop, they began to protest. Try the shorter Vernal Pond Trail with younger hikers, and the longer main loop for more experienced kids. The great big pine trees invited my kids to try climbing every one, and one magnificent beech with a flying buttress coming off one side and a big hollow hole in it was pure magic.

Getting Involved
Contact the Town of Litchfield for volunteer information.
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