Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network is made up of 1.25 miles of trails that travel over mowed grass, forest floor and narrow bog bridges. Hiking from the shore to the field, you’ll climb a considerable hill. The easiest part of the trail network is the wide trail that travels around the perimeter of Williams Field.
From the intersection of Route 123 and Bath Road at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, follow Route 123 south for 11.4 miles, and the first preserve parking lot is on the right, on the edge of Williams Field. (Note: You’ll pass Harpswell Neck Fire Department on the right soon before reaching the parking area.)
To reach the second parking area, which is across from Basin Cove, continue on Route 123 south another 0.2 mile and turn right onto Ash Point Road; take your first right onto Basin Point Road and drive 0.5 mile to the parking lot on the right.
Information: Curtis Farm Preserve, named after the last family to farm the property in 1940, is owned and maintained by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, which purchased the bulk of the property in 2011 with donations from more than 160 contributors. An additional 14 acres was added in 2013, bringing the preserve to 86 acres in total size — a large piece of land for the coastal town of Harpswell.
“It’s remarkable for the variety of habitats within just 86 acres,” said Reed Coles, executive director of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, “ranging from open old agricultural field… to mature oak forest, mature spruce fir forest, early successional shrubbery forest, to freshwater wetlands of two types, plus a pond, plus extensive coastal flats, mud flats that are of very high valuable both for shellfish and as wading bird habitat.”
The preserve’s 1.25-mile trail network officially opened on June 6, during the annual Harpswell Hiking Challenge, a weekend designed to get people out and exploring many of the area’s public trails.
The trails are marked with blue and yellow blazes, and signs are located at each intersection. A trail travels around the perimeter of the 6-acre Williams Field, where nesting boxes and underbrush attracts a variety of birds. At the edge of the field, a short side trail leads to a glacial erratic (a boulder left by a receding glacier) that is called “The Pebble.”
“This field, in the early part of the 20th century, was used for baseball games,” said Coles. “Teams on Sundays would row over from Orrs Island and Bailey Island across Harpswell Sound and play the Harpswell Neck teams. Then in from the ‘60s through the mid-’80s, the Boy Scouts and fire department had bean hole suppers here. They mowed the field, and put tables out, and put beans in a hole up behind these sumacs.”
“It’s essentially been a spot for community activity for 100-plus years now, and we hope that with these trails, it will continue to be an attractive spot for people to use,” Coles said.
From the north edge of the field, a trail enters the forest to travel to Curtis Cove and the parking area at Basin Cove. Along the way, there is a partial outlook of Middle Bay. On a clear day, visitors can see all the way to the White Mountains in New Hampshire from that spot, Coles said. The trail then descends through mature spruce fir forest to reach the shore. Several bog bridges in this section of trail make the walk more interesting (and less muddy).
Visitor guidelines are listed in the preserve’s trail brochure, which is available online and at kiosks at the two trailheads. The brochure also includes a trail map for the preserve.
A good rule to follow when visiting any preserve or park is: “carry in, carry out,” which means pick up trash and leave nature as you find it. Respect wildlife, other trail users and neighboring landowners.
Hunting is permitted at Curtis Farm Preserve, and trapping is allowed with written permission from the land trust. Fires are not permitted, nor are power-driven mobility devices. Dogs are permitted, but they must be on leash during bird nesting season: April 15-July 31. Dogs must be under voice control the rest of the year. And pet owners are expected to carry out all dog waste.
As of the end of 2014, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust has conserved more than 1,400 acres of land in Harpswell, and of that conservation land, 355 is in preserves owned by the land trust and is always open to the public. The rest is in conservation easements on privately-owned land, and some of those easement properties allow public access. The land trust maintains about 7 miles of trails, split among several properties. For information about these trails, visit hhltmaine.org or call 721-1121.
Personal note: A crew had just finished mowing a small section of Williams Field when I arrived at the trailhead parking area for Curtis Farm Preserve on June 5. They were preparing a spot for the trail network’s grand opening, scheduled for the next day. Waiting for me was Reed Coles, executive director of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, to tell me a little bit about the new trails.
After we discussed the history and various habitats of the preserve, I asked Coles about the new Summer Trail Challenge, which is taking place in the towns of Harpswell, Bath, Brunswick, Topsham and West Bath between Memorial Day (May 25) and Labor Day (Sept. 7) this year. The event is similar to the Harpswell Hiking Challenge, but over a greater geographical area and for a much longer time, giving more people the opportunity to join the fun. To participate, you simply pick up a Summer Trail Challenge card from a hosting land trust or the recreation departments of towns, or you can download a card at www.accesshealthme.org. Those who complete the challenge are placed into a drawing for various prizes.
Coles then left me to explore the new trail network. Serenaded by crickets, I followed the trail along the edge of the field and entered a stand of towering oak trees, which unfortunately were being defoliated by some insect. In the underbrush, I could hear a variety of birds, including the distinctive song of a bobolink, which reminds me of a robot with a talent for melody.
Heading deeper into the woods on the Coves Trail, I was accompanied by a group of noisy waxwings, moving from the top of one birch tree to the next. Then three wild turkeys crossed the trail ahead of me and disappeared into the underbrush. As I continued toward the shore, the forest changed until I was in the shade of a stand of tall spruce.
The trail itself was beautiful, surfaced with gravel and bog bridges in soggy areas of the forest.
The preserve was filled with blossoms, from common bluets dotting the edge of the field to pink lady’s slipper orchids sprouting from the mossy forest floor. On the shore of Curtis Cove, I spotted two mallard ducks, a male and female swimming through the seaweed; and back by the field, I found a group of black and orange caterpillars. I suspect they may have had something to do with the defoliated oak trees, but not having much knowledge about caterpillars, I may be wrong.
While coastal southern Maine is now an easy place to pick up harmful ticks, I managed to get through the hike tick free. I did, however, pick up a tiny green inch worm, which I carefully plucked off my shoulder and placed on a tree before leaving the preserve.