Difficulty: Easy. The 2.5-mile loop trail is wide and travels over smooth terrain. Numerous bog bridges allow hikers to travel through wetland areas while staying dry.
How to get there: From Route 2 in Milford, turn onto County Road and travel approximately 8 miles to a short drive on the left. The drive leads to a small parking area and kiosk with information and a map of Johnson Brook Trail. The loop trail begins on an old, grassy road that is gated off near the kiosk.
Information: Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, home to a variety of plants and animals, is open to visitors year round during daylight hours and features a number of hiking trails that offers opportunities to view wildlife.
Established on November 22, 1988, the refuge was once in danger of being destroyed by a peat mining company. Over the years, the refuge has expanded to manage parcels of land in Benton, Unity, Corinth, Exeter, Fairfield, Starks, Patten and Troy.
The Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a nonprofit organization of 170 volunteers who are dedicated to protecting the refuge. They build boardwalks, maintain trails and educate the community about the refuge.
“National wildlife refuges are for wildlife first, people second,” Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows remind people on its website. Visitors in the refuge should take care to observe wildlife at a safe and respectful distance. Binoculars can help with this. And pets are allowed but should be kept on leashes so they don’t harass wildlife.
The refuge is also open to big game hunting, upland game hunting and waterfowl hunting. Trapping is allowed if a refuge permit is obtained.
Most refuge trails are wet in the spring and summer. In addition to the Johnson Brook Trail network, frequented hiking trails in the refuge in Milford include Ash Landing Trail, Carter Meadow Road, Oak Point Trail and Buzzy Brook Trails.
The Johnson Brook Trail is a 2.5-mile loop with two spur trails, one leading to a beaver dam and the other leading to bog bridges that travel through a birch grove. The far end of the loop (between the two spur trails) becomes narrower and travels through a beautiful, mossy forest. Several wide bog bridges, wavy from sections sinking into the soggy ground, help hikers traverse the wetter sections of trail. The connector trail that is closer to County Road (the first left when starting the loop from the parking area) travels through a magnificent cedar marsh with zigzagging bog bridges.
Personal note: I visited the Johnson Brook Trail network for the first time on April 14, 2013, on a rather volatile day of rain, sun and hail. I chose the trail, frankly, because it was close to my home in the Bangor area and the rainy weather didn’t inspire me to make a long trip for what would be a wet walk.
While the trail is wide (an overgrown, grassy road for much of it) and therefore not the most beautiful of footpaths, the forest it traveled through was spectacular. Regardless of the less-than-ideal weather, lack of foliage and excess of mud, the hike was beautiful, so I can’t imagine how nice it would be later in the year.
With all of the educational signs and various habitats, the trail is also a perfect place for people to learn about wildlife, and from my experience, view wildlife. I came across several birds, including hairy woodpeckers engaged in some sort of dance. (After which, I looked up an interesting writeup about hairy woodpecker behavior by Lawrence Kilham at www.nashvillezoo.org/piciformes/pdf/reproHWPIII.pdf.)
Beavers on the property will typically be active at night, though I have spotted a beaver elsewhere during the day. I also noticed an abundance of wild turkey tracks, and I spotted a wild turkey while driving to the trailhead on the County Road. And to my surprise, I came across some moose tracks on the Birch Grove Spur Trail.
If you do visit the Johnson Brook Trail, be sure to walk the portion of trail that travel through the cedar swamp, which is close to the trailhead. As you will see on the map displayed at the trailhead kiosk, the cedar swamp can be reached by taking the first left off the main trail. The trail leading to the cedar swamp narrows dramatically as it weaves through evergreen trees, but it opens up before entering the swamp, which I can only describe as eerily beautiful.