Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Woodbury Nature Sanctuary


The 160 Woodbury Nature Sanctuary is a peaceful plot of hilly ground and mixed hardwood forest nestled on the boarder of Litchfield and Monmouth, across Whippoorwill Road from Woodbury Pond. The Stanton Bird Club owns and maintains the property and trails, having been deeded the land in 1929 by descendants of the Woodbury family. Nearly four miles of trails traverse the property, accessing spots of interest, including the original Woodbury family cemetery, two small hilltops, a vernal pool and a view of Mud Pond at the west corner of the property.

Getting There
From downtown Gardiner, take Highland Avenue (High St.) west about 7.3 miles to Hardscrabble (Cobboseecontee?) Road. Turn right, then take and immediate left onto Whippoorwill Road. In 1.8 miles turn right onto Pease Hill Road (the road is unmarked, but is almost directly across from LeBlanc Road on the Left). The Sanctuary is on the immediate left, with room for one or two cars to park in front of the wide metal gate. A sign straight ahead marks the beginning of the Blue and White Trails; the Yellow Trail begins across Pease Hill Road. Maps are available in a box a short way up the trail.

The Trails
Three trails provide access to the Sanctuary, with the White and Blue Trails intersecting to allow for a variety of loop options.

White Trail and Barbara's Loop
Distance: 2.1 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Time needed: 1.5-2 hours

The White Trail is the most extensive of the Sanctuary's three trails, providing access to the far north and west corners of the property. It is a narrow dirt and leaf litter track, winding under the canopy of second-growth hardwoods and hemlock trees. From the parking area, head into the woods at the sign marking the trailhead. The trail heads uphill a short distance to the intersection with the Blue Trail North. Maps are available here in a black mailbox. Continue straight, climbing uphill gradually through a forest on mixed maple, beech and oak trees, passing a left fork to Blue Trail South. The trail levels off in a hemlock grove, with a vernal pool on the right. From here the trail begins to head downhill, crosses the Blue Trail again, and continues down through a dark hemlock and birch woods. The trail comes to a fork where Barbara's Loop, named in memory of Barbara Tatham Johnson, Sanctuary Steward from 1991-2005, begins. Taking a right at the fork, the trail continues downhill and gets steeper. As it approaches a low, wet area, the trail curves to the left, paralleling the low area. Mud Pond becomes visible through the trees and the trail levels out and begins to climb again, continuing to angle to the left. The trail climbs more steeply as it approaches the fork at the beginning of the loop. From here turn right and return to the parking area along the White Trail.

Blue Trail
Distance: 1.9 miles (loop)
Difficulty: Moderate
Time Needed: 1-2 hours

From the parking area, follow the White Trail a short distance to the intersection with the Blue Trail. Here maps are available in a black mailbox. A right turn leads to Blue Trail North (0.46 miles). Continue straight on the White Trail to a left fork to Blue Trail South (0.63 miles). Turning left onto Blue Trail South, the trail climbs uphill under a canopy of American beech and oak trees. The trail is a narrow track of mossy dirt and rocks, often dipping under low-hanging beech leaves, giving it a very earthy, enchanted feel. The trail passes a big oak tree and levels out, with a view of the stone wall marking the property boundary on the left before heading downhill through a hemlock grove, along a ravine on the left. The trail crosses a small stream on a small stone bridge, climbs up again and then down stone steps near a large granite outcropping, continuing through the hemlock grove to the intersection with the White Trail. From here hikers can continue straight ahead to complete the Blue Loop, turn right to shorten their hike a bit by cutting back on the White Trail, or take a left and complete Barbara's Loop as well.

Heading straight across the intersection to Blue Trail North, the trail heads uphill for a short distance before leveling off and curving around the shoulder of a small hilltop. A large stone wall marking the northeast boundary of the property is visible downhill to the left. The trail begins a gradual descent through an area thick with ferns, the trail dotted with large, sparkly rocks, to the intersection with the White Trail. From here a left turn takes you back to the parking area.

The Yellow Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Time needed: 1/2-1 hour

The Yellow Trail begins directly across Pease Hill Road from the parking area/gate. The trail enters the woods among large pine trees and mixed hardwood. A short distance in it crosses a small stream on a stone bridge and climbs uphill slightly to the Woodbury family cemetery. Just beyond the cemetery, the trail forks. The right fork follows a narrow dirt path under a canopy of white birch, maple and pine. The trail comes upon a stone wall overlooking a stream down below. A log bench a the base of a large oak tree affords hikers a resting spot and a view of the singing stream. The trail follows the stream a short distance and forks again. The left fork (yellow dots) connects to the other half of the loop, following along the stone wall above the stream—don't miss this lovely shortcut. The right fork heads down to the stream, crosses it on a series of large rocks and climbs uphill. The understory of the forest here becomes thicker with young pine, looping near Whippoorwill Road (the road is not visible from the trail) and crosses back over the stream on stepping stones. The trail forks again; the left fork is the far end of the yellow-dot cutoff, with another resting bench at this terminus. The right fork continues through a young beech and birch woods, with more sapling pine understory. Large mossy stumps attest to the grand old trees that once resided here. The trail follows close along Pease Hill Road before returning to the cemetery and back down to the trailhead.
Kid-Friendly Factor
The Woodbury Nature Sanctuary is a wonderful place to take children—the mossy logs, sparkly rocks and mushrooms all provide plenty of fodder for imaginary homes for fairies and gnomes. The trail lengths are manageable for short legs, particularly the Yellow and Blue Trails and the White Trail intersecting the Blue offers an opportunity to bail if the kids become tired or cranky. My kids found plenty of trees and rocks to climb and enjoyed trekking ahead through the dark and mysterious forest. The trails are too narrow and bumpy to be strollerable, but they're short enough to make it a pleasant hike while carrying a little one in a front carrier or backpack.

Getting Involved
Contact the Stanton Bird Club for information about club meetings, natural history programs or to become a member.
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