Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trail network consists about 5 miles of traditional hiking trails and old roads. The Old Farm Road Trail is the easiest trail, being both smooth and wide; it strikes through the center of the preserve, linking all other trails. The Shore Trail, Ravine Trail and Timber Trail are narrower but well-marked. All three trails travel over small hills, across wooden bridges, and over some uneven terrain on occasion.
How to get there: If coming from the north, take the Newcastle exit off Route 1 and turn left onto Mills Road. Drive 0.4 mile to a stop sign. Drive straight through the intersection, and after just 0.1 mile, veer left onto River Road. Drive about 3.2 miles (veering left to stay on River Road at the 0.7-mile mark), and the parking lot will be on your left.
If you’re coming from the south, take the River Road exit (Snead’s Spur) off Route 1 in Newcastle. Drive 0.2 mile, then take a sharp right onto River Road. Follow River Road approximately 2.5 miles and the parking lot will be on your left.
Information: Formerly an award-winning tree farm owned by the Freeman family, Dodge Point was purchased by the State of Maine in 1989 with help and funding from the Damariscotta River Association, the Maine Coastal Program and the Land for Maine’s Future Program. The 500-acre preserve features more than 8,000 feet of frontage along the Damariscotta River, as well as an impressive stand of tall red pine trees, and a mature mixed forest that features giant oak trees, maples, birches and massive white pines. And all of this can be explored on a network of trails and old farm roads that intersect and total about 5 miles.
Co-managed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Damariscotta River Association, the trial network on the property is well maintained, marked and signed. In addition, a trail maps are posted at the trailhead kiosk and at major trail intersections throughout the network.
There are four major trails in the network.
All visitors to Dodge Point start out their hike on the Old Farm Road Trail, which starts at the preserve’s parking area and forms a loop that is about 2 miles long. This wide, smooth trail traces old roads that were used by farmers in the 1800s and loggers in more recent history. Winding through a beautiful forest filled with woodland flowers, ferns, giant oak trees and old stone walls, this wide trail leads to the other three trails in the network. It also visits a large stand of tall red pine trees, a species that is planted to be harvested for timber and pulpwood, and an “ice pond” where local residents used to harvest ice to fill their ice boxes in the winter.
The Ravine Trail is 1.2 miles and moderate in difficulty, with a few steeper slopes. This trail starts close to the parking area and ends near the ice pond, traveling roughly through the center of the preserve. According to the Damariscotta River Association, fox, raccoon, deer and the moose have been spotted on this trail.
The Timber Trail is 0.8 miles and loops off the Old Farm Road Trail to the west, passing over several old stone walls and traveling through a mixed growth forest, traveling up and over a gentle hill along the way. About halfway along this trail, the River-Link Trail spurs off to the west, leading to trails that are not located on the preserve but are open to the public.
The Shore Trail is 1.5 miles long and spurs off the Old Farm Road Trail to follow the shore of the Damariscotta River, where it visits a pebble beach, sand beach and “Brickyard Beach,” which is scattered with bricks left from 18th- and 19th-century brickmaking operations. The Shore Trail also leads to Baker Landing, which includes a public dock, rocky beach and an outdoor classroom (a woodland clearing with a semi-circle of benches for groups), all dedicated in 2012 to Robert and Margaret Baker of Newcastle in honor of their support and stewardship of Dodge Point.
The Shore Trail is the most popular of the four trails. Tracing the riverbank, it’s a great trail for observing several species of shorebirds, including egrets, herons and bald eagles.
The property is open to the public for free. Camping and fires are not permitted. Dogs are permitted if kept under control at all times.
For more information, visit www.maine.gov/dodgepoint, where a trail map is available for download, as well as a Natural Heritage Hike self-guided tour brochure, which pinpoints various natural and historic features along the trails. If you have specific questions about the property, call the Damariscotta River Association at 207-563-1393 or the Maine Western Region Public Lands Office at 207-778-8231.
Personal note: It was raining by the time we reached the parking lot for Dodge Point Public Reserved Land on Sunday, June 4, even though the forecast called for sunny skies. The parking lot was nearly full. My dog Oreo was full of energy, yanking on his leash and whining after a long car ride from the Bangor area. And as I squished a mosquito on my arm, my upbeat disposition — which I normally have at the start of a hike — was quickly fizzling into irritation.
After glancing at the trail map posted at the trailhead, we marched along Old Farm Road Trail at a quick pace, trying to outrun the mosquitoes and possibly my souring mood. Then I started noticing the lady’s-slippers and lining the path, their bulbous, rich pink blossoms in full bloom, dangling from long, slender green stems. They were the largest lady’s-slippers I’d ever seen. Slowing down, I noticed more woodland flowers — yellow trout lilies, white star-shaped mayflowers and closer to the riverbank, wild geraniums with lavender petals. And as I focused on photographing the flowers, the rain stopped and the sky cleared.
Taking Shore Path, our first real break was at Baker Landing, where we sat on a large flat rock on the shore and watched an eastern phoebe — a small brown-gray bird with a white chest — deliver insect to its nest under the dock, where its babies were making quite a racket.
Our second break wasn’t much farther, at another beach accessed by the Shore Trail. There I came across two women, two children and a dog, so Oreo and I walked the beach and rounded a bend to find a private place to enjoy the view of the water reflecting the blue sky, combined with the salty scent of the breeze and the sound of waves lapping the shore. I sat on a flat rock in the shade of overhanging oak trees and let Oreo off leash so he could sprint into the freezing river and do his strange water dance. The irritation I’d felt earlier was long gone.
Hiking the rest of the Shore Path, we spent some time wandering Brickyard Beach — an unusual sight with hundreds of bright red bricks scattered throughout the sand and grass — then visited the ice pond, where I crouched down a few yards from the shore and photographed six eastern painted turtles sunning on a log. Turtles are skittish, so I wasn’t surprised to see them slip from the log into the water as we approached the pond. Once more, Oreo splashed about, this time taking the opportunity to drink the fresh water. We then took the Ravine Trail back to the parking lot, making a loop hike that was about 3.4 miles long.