Difficulty: Easy-moderate, depending on the trails you choose to hike. The Outlook Trail, which starts at the preserve trailhead, is easy and wide, with a smooth surface of fine dirt. However, some of the other trails, such as the Stone Steps Trail, are more challenging, with steep grades and tricky footing.
Information: Thorne Head Preserve in Bath is 96 acres of forestland that was purchased by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust in 2000 with the support of many individual donations and a grant from Land for Maine’s Future Program and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. The preserve, which conserves 0.5 mile of shoreline along the Kennebec River and Whiskeag Creek, has become the land trust’s signature property and is now home to an extensive network of public trails.
The trail network is made up of many intersecting trails that together add up to more than 3.5 miles of walking. Some of the trails are marked with paint blazes, and some are not. All trails are fairly distinct because of regular maintenance and foot traffic.
Two trails leave from the trailhead parking area: the Whiskeag Trail and the Overlook Trail.
The Whiskeag Trail winds through the preserve to reach the banks of Whiskeag Creek, which it follows southwest and crosses a footbridge before leaving the preserve and continuing 5 miles to the Bath YMCA.
The Overlook Trail is the easiest trail on the preserve; it’s wide and smooth, surfaced with soft dirt, and travels gradually up to an overlook at the top of Thorne Head, which offers a partial view of where Whiskeag Creek meets the Kennebec River.
The other preserve trails are Ridge Runner Trail, Sunset Loop Trail, Narrows Trail, Mushroom Cap Trail, Stone Steps Trail, Old Ferry Road Trail and Pond Connector Trail. Most of the trails are marked with signs at intersections; however, a few signs are missing. Carrying an updated trail map is the best way to navigate the trail network.
One interesting aspect of the preserve is the many distinct habitats on the property, which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. An online brochure for the preserve, provided by KELT, describes six of these habitats: a freshwater marsh, mixed woods, vernal pools, riparian areas and tidal wetlands (which are home to two endangered plant species — parker’s pipewort and estuary bur-marigold).
The forest of the property is mostly mature, with tall white pines and hemlocks. However, the preserve supports more than 100 plant species.
The Kennebec River Estuary — the section of the river affected by marine tides — is important habitat for striped bass and short nosed sturgeon.
The preserve is open free of change to the public, year round, from dawn to dusk. In the winter, the trails are used regularly by snowshoers. Dogs are permitted but must be on leash at all times. KELT asks that visitors stay on trails and clean up after themselves and their pets. Camping, fires and motorized vehicles are prohibited. Hunting, fishing and trapping are permitted.
Personal note: I left my house in the Bangor area early on April 30, a Thursday, to drive two hours to meet Greg Westrich at Thorne Head Preserve in Bath. A Glenburn resident, Westrich is the author of two newly published guides to Maine hiking trails (FalconGuides “Hiking Maine” and “Best Easy Day Hikes Camden”) and he was doing research at the preserve for his next guide, “Best Easy Day Hikes Portland.” I was simply tagging along, hoping to learn more about Westrich and the preserve at the same time.
After introductions, we checked out the trailhead kiosk, where information about the preserve was posted, as well as an updated map. Also near the kiosk was a dog waste station, with waste bags and a trash can. My dog Oreo wasn’t along for the adventure that day because I wanted to focus on interviewing Westrich and documenting the trails without wrestling with his leash. But if he had been with me, I think he would have liked the trails, which travel all the way to the shore of the Kennebec River.
While gathering information at the trailhead, a volunteer trail steward, Frank Power of Bath, arrived and led us to a frog pond not far down the preserve’s main trail, the Overlook Trail. The telltale call of spring peepers drowned out the songbirds as we stood by the pond and talked about how it also serves as a resting spot for migrating birds in the spring.
Powers walked with us to the overlook atop Thorne Head, pointing out a vernal pool and the old ferry road along the way. We parted ways at the overlook, as Westrich and I planned to hike the more difficult Stone Steps Trail down to The Narrows Trail, which runs along the riverbank.
The forest was alive with both red and grey squirrels; the former scolded us, while the later simply waved their big tails back and forth. We also ran into a number of woodpeckers — hairy and pileated — knocking holes in the trees.
Trying to walk as much of the network as possible, we completed a few loops and hiked about 2.5 miles, according to Westrich’s GPS, which he used to map the trails. I especially enjoyed the Stone Steps Trail, which included a series of stone steps that the land trust must have gone to great lengths to construct. The trail also included a small section of iron rungs.
It was interesting to walk at someone else’s pace. Westrich went a bit faster than I’m used to because it was important that he create a map of the trail by recording the coordinates of each trail intersection. I, on the other hand, could have searched for peepers at the frog pond all day. While I’ve heard those little noisy frogs all my life, I’ve yet to actually see one!
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl.
More photos from the walk: