Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The 1.8-mile hike travels over a variety of surfaces, including grass, exposed bedrock and forest floor. A number of narrow bog bridges, exposed tree roots and rocks make footing tricky in some areas.
How to get there: From Route 1 in Steuben, take Pigeon Hill Road (a right turn if coming from Ellsworth or left turn if coming from Milbridge). Drive on Pigeon Hill Road for 5.7 miles and you’ll pass the refuge sign and see the first parking lot at the Birch Point Trailhead on your right. Continue driving about 0.4 miles (the road becomes dirt) to reach the second parking lot, which is on the right, across the road from the Hollingsworth Trailhead.
Information: Located in the Petit Manan Point Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Steuben, the Hollingsworth Trail travels through a variety of habitats, including a blueberry field and a fragile cedar swamp, before reaching the ocean.
The trail was named for writer and photographer John Walker Hollingsworth, Jr. (1942-1995), who with his wife, Karen, devoted a decade to photographing more than 400 national wildlife refuges in support of wildlife conservation.
The trail is what’s known as a “lollipop trail,” meaning it starts off as one path, then splits into a loop. The far end of the loop travels near the shore, and a few side trails lead to sand and cobblestone beaches and rocky outlooks. The entire hike, out and back, is 1.8 miles, counting the section of trail that you have to hike twice.
Interpretive stations with colorful educational boards are located along the trail to help people learn about the habitats, wildlife and history of the land.
Between the blueberry field and the coast, the trail travels through an area where there is a lot of exposed bedrock. In this area, lichens, mosses and low-lying bushes are abundant, as are spruce, cedar and tamarack trees. Be sure to wear sunblock, as much of the trail is open to the sky.
In the early summer, the trail is a great place to look for lady’s slippers, a large flower in the orchid family. And there is a variety of wildflowers near the beaches, such as spiky pink thistles and light pink bindweed, a creeping plant with trumpet-shaped flowers.
Wildlife is abundant in the refuge, especially seabirds, which nest on nearby islands. Keep an eye out and give wildlife plenty of space.
The refuge is open during daylight hours, year round. Dogs are permitted on the mainland trails but must be on leashes no longer than 10 feet. Camping, fires and motor vehicles are prohibited. Parts of the refuge are open to hunting. Contact the refuge office for a list of open areas and current regulations.
The Petit Manan Point Division is just a small part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which contains more than 55 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,200 acres. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the refuge complex as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The seabird islands of the refuge are closed to the public during the nesting season, April 1-Aug. 31. However, commercial tour boats provide views of the nesting birds of Petit Manan and Machias Seal Islands. These birds include terns, puffins, black guillemots and razorbills.
For information, call 594-0600 or visit fws.gov/refuge/Maine_Coastal_Islands/.
Personal note: My energy-packed dog, Oreo, hadn’t been on an outdoor adventure with me for several weeks, for one reason or another, when on Aug. 6, as I was eating cereal on the porch, I told him we were going for a “hike” — a word he knows well. His head tilted to the side, his tail started to wag, and he was ready to go.
On the way to Steuben, we stopped at a pet store in Ellsworth. In addition to hiking, we would picking wild blueberries, and I thought Oreo deserved a blueberry-colored collar.
I had never been to the Hollingsworth Trail before, but I had explored the nearby Birch Point Trail, and I knew that people were permitted to pick blueberries in the fields of the refuge. Unfortunately, Oreo was far too excited for picking blueberries. As I plucked the dark blue berries off the low-lying bushes, Oreo whined and started to thrash around on his back, crushing the plants. Not wanting to make a scene, I called it quits and followed the trail through the field and into the woods.
As we neared the ocean, we encountered a few groups, some with leashed dogs, others with children in tow.
We hiked the loop trail counterclockwise, and the first beach we came to was a mix of exposed bedrock, shells, silky sand and cobblestones. The beach was covered with semipalmated sandpipers and semipalmated plovers, two common species shorebirds. They hunted in the wet sand and shallow pools at low tide until a peregrine falcon arrived on the scene and they all flew for cover.
We continued on the trail, visiting beaches and outlooks and interpretive displays. Much of the trail was open to the sky, and I could feel a sunburn developing on my shoulders. I should have hurried back to the trailhead, but I kept getting distracted and taking photos. Photos of a grey grasshopper hopping along the beach, a bee collecting pollen from a bright pink thistle, a tidal pool reflecting fluffy white clouds, the soft needles of a tamarack, and a long boardwalk through a cool, mossy forest.
Eventually, we returned to the parking area, where I shut Oreo in the car with the air conditioner on. I then returned to the field to snatch up a few more berries before calling it a day.