Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Altogether, the trails in the network total roughly 2 miles. The trails and all intersections are marked with blazes and signs. Expect small hills, a few rocky sections and exposed tree roots.
How to get there: Take Interstate 95 to exit 113 (Augusta/Belfast), then go east on Route 3 for 1.7 miles, crossing the Kennebec River. Just after crossing the river, at the intersection of Route 201 and Route 102, turn left onto Route 201 and drive north for about 4.1 miles. Turn left onto Cushnoc Road (in the town of Vassalboro) and drive approximately 1.5 miles and the sanctuary trailhead will be on your left, on the west side of the road. Park on the shoulder of the road, well out of the way of traffic and without blocking any nearby driveways. Keep in mind that the sanctuary trail crosses private property. Stay on trail and respect the privacy of nearby landowners.
Information: An excellent place to find woodland flowers and wildlife, the 40-acre Annie Sturgis Sanctuary in Vassalboro features a simple, two-mile trail network that open to foot traffic only. Owned and maintained by the New England Wild Flower Society, this property is home to what’s known as the largest stand of wild ginger in Maine, as well as a variety of wildflowers, including bloodroot, trout lily and purple trillium.
Another interesting landmark on the sanctuary is the picturesque remains of an old chimney and fireplace, constructed out of a variety of local stones and bricks. This chimney stands atop a forested hill known as Mount Tom. And nearby is a wooden bench that was a gift of Marilyn J. Dwelley, the steward who directed the crew that built the bridges and trails of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary was donated to the New England Wild Flower Society by the children of Annie Sturgis (1883-1973) in 1987, and named in her honor. But it wasn’t until 1991, that the society opened the sanctuary to the public after working with Maine Conservation Corps to clear trails on the property along former bridle paths and carriage trails. The MCC teams also built four bridges over streams and ravines, which today have fallen in disrepair but aren’t necessary for people to cross the waterways.
In an effort to preserve the natural features of the property, the New England Wild Flower Society does not allow camping, picnicking, hunting, shooting, fires, smoking, bikes, ATVs or other vehicles on the property. Also, dogs are not permitted. The trails are for foot traffic only, and the removal of plant material is prohibited.
Also of note, the sanctuary is only open dawn until dusk, April 1 through Oct. 31. The property is closed to the public Nov. 1 through March 31, due to hazardous conditions. Skiing is strictly forbidden.
For more information, visit www.newenglandwild.org or call the sanctuary stewards, Gail Brum and Lynn-Marie Kikutis at 207-623-9340.
Personal note: Yellow trumpet-shaped trout lilies lined the woodland path in Annie Sturgis Sanctuary on May 4, when I visited the trail network for the first time. The forest was filled with birdsong, and the trees were just beginning to unfurl new leaves. I was visiting the property at just the right time to capture the unique beauty of a landscape filled with woodland flowers.
In addition to the hundreds of yellow lilies that had sprouted from the forest floor, purple trillium were in bloom, a woodland flower with three, deep red petals. In juxtaposition to their beauty, the trillium is said to have the smell of rotting meat, and therefore also bears the common name of “Stinking Benjamin.”
Bloodroot was also in bloom throughout the forest that day, though I didn’t know the flower by sight and had to look it up later. Growng low to the ground, this white woodland flower reminded me of a daisy, with eight long, rounded petals and a yellow center. While later identifying the flower online, I learned that bloodroot derives its common name from the fact that it was reddish roots that produce bright orange sap. The plant has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, but with care. Bloodroot produces a toxin, stored in its roots, and this toxin kills living cells. It been used to treat everything from warts to rheumatism, but an overdose of bloodroot extract can cause vomiting and loss of consciousness.
I suppose I could take credit for my impeccable timing, but I had no idea so many flowers would be in bloom so early in the year. I’m a botanical newbie, and I’d simply been lucky.
Unfortunately, with the blossoms and birds come the not-so-pleasant signs of spring — ticks. During my walk, I plucked two dog ticks off my skin — one from my neck and another from my shoulder. I had been practically rolling around on the ground to take photos of flowers, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I also managed to carry three additional dog ticks home with me in the car, despite performing a tick check before leaving the sanctuary. Rest assured, all three met a violent end.
While photographing trout lilies, I noticed a tiny jumping spider crawling across a dead oak leaf. Most spiders give me goosebumps, but jumping spiders are oddly adorable. Two of their eight eyes are exceptionally large and located right at the front of their head, reminding me of a person wearing thick-lensed glasses that magnify their eyes in a comical fashion. I’m not the only one who finds jumping spiders to be cute. I belong to a few insect photography groups on Facebook, and the jumping spider photos are always popular.
As I moved from field to forest, I walked through a noisy group of white-throated sparrows and black-capped chickadees, and a few minutes later, I spied a hairy woodpecker drilling on a tree. And I’m sure there were plenty of birds nearby that I didn’t see. As I walked the entire trail network, up and down Mount Tom, then around the Ginger Loop Trail, birds talked to me the whole way. I heard and saw a lot in the forest that day, but crazily enough, I missed the famous patch of wild ginger. Though I had some idea of what it would look like, I must have passed by it, possibly while discovering the first tick on my neck. Maybe I’ll return some day to see if I can find it.