Difficulty: Moderate. While the trails on the preserve add up to just 1.6 miles, the trails travel over hills and along a steep slope. For an unobstructed view of the falls, you must take a side trail, which is extremely steep and rocky. Use this side trail with caution.
How to get there: From US Route 1 in north Ellsworth, turn right onto Mariaville Road. In just a few feet, you’ll pass Boggy Brook Road, the entrance to Ellsworth Business Park, on your left. Drive 8.3 miles on Mariaville Road, then turn right onto Route 181 (just past the Beech Hill School). Drive on Route 181 for 9.7 miles and turn left onto a gravel access road to the Mariaville Falls Preserve. The access road is marked by a large wooden sign for the preserve. Drive about 0.2 mile to the first parking lot and the trailhead to a new trail that travels through the woods to connect with the Fisherman’s Trail; or continue up the road about 0.1 mile to the second parking lot at a gravel pit and the trailhead to the Fisherman’s Trail, which traces the river to the Mariaville Falls.
Information: The grand opening of Mariaville Falls Preserve is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, and will include a guided hike along the preserve’s hiking trails to the West Branch of the Union River and the scenic stair falls. The Frenchman Bay Conservancy pieced together the preserve with two land purchases that total 123 acres on the east shore of the river, and one conservation easement on 18 acres across the river, on the west shore.
The conservancy then designed two trails on the property.
The 0.85-mile Fisherman’s Trail starts at a gravel pit and descends a slope to the West Branch of the Union River. The trail then turns right to travel upriver to Mariaville Falls. Along the way, the trail visits several viewpoints along the scenic river. The trail also travels up and over hills and along the side of a steep slope. At the falls, there is a rough side trail that people can take to access the water at the bottom of the falls. The side trail is extremely steep and travels over some jagged rocks. The Fisherman’s Trail continues past the falls to a bend in the river, where there’s a nice flat spot near the edge of the water for picnicking. At this spot, a sign is posted on a tree warning paddlers of the waterfall downriver.
The second trail is yet to be named and is 0.48 mile long, according to the preserve map provided by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. It starts at the first parking area of the preserve and travels through the woods and descends a hill to connect with the Fisherman’s Trail south of Mariaville Falls. To reach the falls, turn right onto the Fisherman’s Trail and hike a couple tenths of a mile.
While following the trails through the shaded evergreen forest, it’s hard to imagine that the land was once the location of a village. In the early 1800s, William Bingham of Philadelphia established a settlement at Mariaville Falls, and it grew to include a dam, two timber mills, a tannery, a boarding house and homes for about 50 families, according to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. Today, there are no noticeable traces of this village along the preserve trails.
Authorized uses for the preserve are canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, hiking and nature observation. While there, be sure to pick up after yourself and leave nature as you find it. Dogs are permitted but must be kept under voice control at all times.
For more information about trails maintained by Frenchman Bay Conservancy, visit frenchmanbay.org or call 422-2328.
Personal note: I gave a presentation about hiking trails a few months ago at Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s beautiful headquarters at Tidal Falls in Hancock. And while there, I learned about FBC’s new Mariaville Falls Preserve. Working staff members of the conservancy, I planned to visit the preserve before it’s grand opening on Oct. 3.
Joined by my husband Derek, and our dog, Oreo, I visited the new preserve on Sunday, Sept. 27, which turned out to be the perfect temperature for hiking. It was a crisp fall day, but the sun was warm enough for us to shed our fleece jackets while snacking on the rocks near the falls.
The trails were marked with blue flagging tape tied around tree trunks, but the conservancy staff told me the tape would soon be replaced with either blue painted blazes or tiny square signs nailed to trees. I’ve seen both methods used to mark trails of other FBC lands.
We were the only visitors to the preserve that afternoon. Chickadees sang to us as we walked through the shady forest. We paused to photograph an American toad, white tree mushrooms and shiny brown capped mushrooms growing up out of the forest floor covered with pine needles.
The river frothed and roared at the stair falls, which I imagine looks very different when the water is higher in the spring. Above and below the falls, the river appeared quite different. Lined with tall grasses, the river’s clear water flowed slowly. Its surface was smooth, disturbed only by darting water beetles.
Enjoying the peacefulness of the spot, we lingered at the preserve for several hours. We knew it would be one of the last days of the year warm enough for us to wear T-shirts and watch Oreo splash in the water.