Difficulty: Easy. The trail leading through the preserve is just 0.5 mile long and travels over a fairly even forest floor and a few narrow bog bridges. However, the suggested parking area for preserve visitors is about 0.5 mile away from the trailhead on a quiet, coastal road lined with private homes and a beautiful evergreen forest. Therefore, out and back, the walk is about 2 miles.
How to get there: The Frenchman Bay Conservancy asks visitors to Salt Pond Preserve to park near the Hancock Point boathouse and wharf on Bay Avenue in Hancock. To get there from Route 1 in Hancock, turn onto Point Road near the Hancock Town Office and drive 4.4 miles, then turn left onto Haskins Road. Drive 0.2 miles to the end of Haskins Road and turn right onto Bay Avenue. The boathouse and wharf is in a few hundred feet on your left.
After parking, walk north on Bay Avenue (back to the intersection with Haskins Road) and continue walking along Carter’s Beach Road, following the shore. The Salt Pond Preserve trailhead is located in about 0.5 mile, at the end of Carter’s Beach Road. Marked with blue blazes, the trail enters the woods on the left just before the salt pond.
Information: Salt Pond Preserve is a narrow strip of forestland on Hancock Point that has been conserved by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy for public recreation. A 0.5-mile walking path, marked with blue painted blazes, winds through the 18-acre property, spanning from a cobble beach to Hancock Point Road.
The preserve is named after a salt pond that is located at one end of the trail, separated from the ocean by a cobble beach littered with rocks, seashells, driftwood and seaweed.
A coastal salt pond marsh is “a wetland lying beyond the upper reach of spring tides but periodically infused with salt water during storm events,” according to the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands.
Whether they contain ponds or not, salt marshes “provide rich habitat to a great diversity of plants, invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals,” according to “The Volunteer’s Handbook for Monitoring Maine Salt Marshes,” a joint publication by Ducks Unlimited, Maine Sea Grant and Restore Maine’s Coast. The handbook, which is available online, contains a wealth of information about Maine salt marshes, including species lists, common study areas, and information about marsh restoration in the state.
Among many other things, salt marshes are great places to watch a wide variety of birds, including large wading birds such as great and snowy egrets and great blue herons. A wide variety of ducks and other coastal birds also frequent salt marshes.
Most visitors to Salt Pond Preserve park in a gravel parking area near the Hancock Point boathouse and walk north to the end of Carter’s Beach Road — about a 0.5-mile walk along a residential street. The road starts out paved and turns to gravel, and a sign posted at the start of Carter’s Beach Road states that the road is closed 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. per order of the town’s Board of Selectman. Along the road are a few private dwellings and some small turnouts near the rocky shore where people often access the water to look for seashells and simply enjoy the views.
The road ends at the salt pond and cobblestone beach, and just before that, the preserve trail — marked with blue blazes and Frenchman Bay Conservancy signs — leads into the woods on a narrow wooden bridge.
The trail weaves through the forest for about 0.3 mile, then splits into a small loop. At the far end of the loop, a very short section of trail leads to Hancock Point Road. Some preserve visitors walk along that road, then down Haskins Road to the boathouse, making for a 1.75-mile loop. Other preserve visitors simply backtrack on the trail and along Carter’s Beach Road to enjoy the ocean views for just a bit longer.
The trail is for foot traffic only. Dogs are permitted if kept on leash.
For more information, visit the Frenchman Bay Conservancy website at frenchmanbay.org or call 422-2328.
Personal note: A loon, still wearing its grey winter feathers, was fishing in the frigid waters of Sullivan Harbor when we arrived at the Hancock Point boathouse on Easter Sunday. I jumped out of the car and crept down the long wharf, camera in hand, while my husband, Derek, got together our hiking supplies. Our dog, Oreo, was whining with impatience when I returned, satisfied that I’d snapped some good photos of the beautiful bird.
A cold breeze blew off the water, hurrying us on our way down Carter’s Beach Road toward Salt Pond Preserve.
With a smack, an object fell from the sky and hit the paved road, followed by a crow, which picked the item up and flew into the sky, only to drop it again. It must have been a mussel or some other hard-shelled critter, I told Derek. The crow was breaking it open to eat. Seagulls do the same thing, reminding us just how clever these birds are.
Just a few hundred feet farther and we stopped again, that time to observe a group of noisy cedar waxwings, which were flitting about in the trees lining the road. The large songbird is covered in silky peach feathers that transitions to yellow on its belly and grey on its lower back and tail. Tucked in its wings is a band of bright red feathers, and its tail is tipped with bright yellow. The bird’s head is topped with a crest, and its eyes are accentuated by a mask of black.
And just before reaching the preserve, I stopped to photograph two groups of ducks swimming offshore. Zooming in on my digital camera, I could see the ducks features clearly but I couldn’t identify them until later, with the help of the internet. One group was of female and male black scoters and the other group was male and female surf scoters. Both species of diving ducks have dark bodies and interesting bills that include some bright orange, but they have slightly different patterning and shape.
We found the preserve trail just where I thought we would, just before the salt pond, which was still partially frozen. The forest, filled with cedars and balsam fir trees, we escaped the cold wind. Treading softly over a thin layer of snow, we explored the short trail, found a geocache, signed its log, then backtracked to the salt pond and beach, where we lingered to inspect slipper shells, periwinkles and sea glass.
More photos from the trip: