Difficulty: Easy-moderate, depending on the trails you choose. The Orange Trail and the far end of the Blue Loop are rocky and hilly, making them the most challenging areas of the trail network. Look out for exposed tree roots. Trails are marked with paint, with signs and maps at intersections.
How to get there: From Belfast, follow Route 52 south to Lincolnville Center, where Route 52 (Belfast Road) intersects with Route 173. Turn right and drive south about 2 miles on Route 52 and turn right onto Fernald’s Neck Road. Drive to the end of the road, which becomes dirt and narrows as it enters a residential area. You’ll notice signs pointing to the preserve along the way. The preserve parking area is past a gate at the end of Fernald’s Neck Road. This gate is closed during the winter, but the preserve is still open. Visitors must simply park along the side of the road, being careful not to block driveways. Do not park in front of the gate.
From downtown Camden, take Route 52 north about 4.5 miles to Youngtown Corner. Just past Youngtown Road (on right), turn left onto Fernald’s Neck Road and drive to the parking lot at the end.
Information: The 328-acre Fernald’s Neck Preserve occupies much of a peninsula that juts out into Megunticook Lake, a beautiful body of water in Lincolnville and Camden. Established in 1969, the preserve is home to an old evergreen forest, nearly 4 miles of shoreline, The Great Bog, and about 3.5 miles of walking trails.
The history of the preserve starts in 1969, when a developer expressed interest in buying the land. In response, a group of local residents banded together and raised funds to purchase 285 acres of the peninsula, which was transferred to The Nature Conservancy.
Over the years, additional acres were added, including the 36-acre Hattie Lamb Fernald Section donated by Margaretta W. Thurlow in memory of her mother. In 2007, the property was transferred to the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, which has this history outlined on its website, www.coastalmountains.org.
One key feature of the preserve is a large boulder that appears to be balancing rather precariously on bedrock, hence it being given the name “Balance Rock.” To visit the interesting landmark, it’s just a short walk from the trailhead (on the Blue Trail and Yellow Trail). I’d suggest this short walk for families, even those with small children in tow.
The trails of the preserve are color coded, meaning the painted blazes that mark each trail will match the trail’s color on the map. From the trailhead, you start on the Blue Trail (1.5 miles), which enters the woods and splits into a loop. Splitting off from the Blue Trail is the 0.25-mile White Trail, 1-mile Orange Trail, 0.3-mile Red Trail and 0.2-mile Yellow Trail.
Wildlife watching is especially good where the Blue Trail and Orange Trail run along the edge of The Great Bog. Also, along the lakeshore, keep an eye out for bald eagles and other animals that rely on the 1,300-acre lake for their livelihood.
The preserve is open year round to the public for free during daylight hours. However, before visiting, take a look at the short list of preserve rules. Groups larger than 12 must obtain permission before using the preserve. Trails are for foot traffic only. Dogs and horses aren’t permitted. Also, vehicles — motorized or nonmotorized — are not permitted. For example, bicycles aren’t allowed but can be left in the parking area.
And as always in wildlife areas, don’t litter and leave nature as you find it. You can learn more about the concept of “leaving no trace” at lnt.org.
If visiting with children or you’d simply like to learn more about what you’re seeing in the preserve, check out the “Fernald’s Neck Preserve Quest,” a guide created by Lincolnville Central School 4th Graders that is available at coastalmountains.org/conserved_lands/preserves/fernald.html. The quest leads you through the preserve with clever poems and information about natural features along the way. At the end of the quest is a secret letterbox, which contains a journal and stamp for you to record your victory.
The preserve is cared for by trail stewards of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that has permanently conserved more than 8,100 acres of land in Maine since 1986. To learn more, visit coastalmountains.org, where a brochure and map of the preserve is available for download. You can also call the land trust at 236-7091.
Personal note: I felt a pang of guilt as I spotted my dog Oreo watching from the bedroom window as I rolled out of the driveway on Dec. 26 for a hike at Fernald’s Neck Preserve. But he can’t always come with me on my adventures. There are many hiking trails in Maine that are off limits to dogs, and for good reasons. Usually dogs are prohibited to protect wildlife and delicate plants; and then there’s the fact that some people simply enjoy walking in the quiet woods without worrying about roaming dogs. I understand, even if Oreo doesn’t.
Fernald’s Neck has been on my list of must-do hikes for a long time, but it was an email BDN readers Bill and Debbie Flatley that pushed me to finally get out there. The Flatleys recently hiked a few of the preserve trails with their daughters and granddaughters, who especially enjoyed Balance Rock. So thank you, Bill and Debbie, for the suggestion. I had a wonderful time.
The weather was unusual for the day after Christmas — 45 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny and not one clump of snow on the ground. It was a perfect day to enjoy the woods, so I took my time and walked every trail in the network except the 0.3-mile Red Trail.
Early winter ice storms had done significant damage to the old forest, but trail stewards had already cleaned the trails up. From the amount of sawdust on the ground, I could tell it had been hard work. Freshly painted
blazes marked the trails, which were fairly wide and easy to follow. All-in-all, I was impressed by the state of the trail network, but even more impressed by the beauty of the old forest and the views along the lakeshore.
I brought along my new 100-400mm camera lens, perfect for capturing wildlife, but only managed to photograph red squirrels and a mourning dove. I also spotted chickadees and nuthatches, but they remained high in the hemlocks, out of my reach. And along the white trail, I noticed deer tracks in the soggy meadow.
Oh, and there’s one other animal species I came upon — dogs. Despite several “no dogs” signs posted at the preserve gate, trailhead and along the trail network, I came across two visitors walking dogs. As much as I love dogs, I was annoyed. In my book, when it comes to preserves, rules are rules. No dog is above the rules, not even Oreo, who was sitting at home. I understand how difficult it is to leave your dog at home, but there are plenty of dog-friendly trails in the Lincolnville area. They should bring their dog to those trails instead and avoid being scowled at (or even scolded) by strangers for breaking the rules. I didn’t say anything as I passed by the dog walkers, but I wonder if I should have.