Difficulty: Easy to moderate. From the parking lot to the end of the main trail is 1.4 mile, and a side loop adds 0.4 mile to the trail network. Expect hills, uneven terrain, exposed tree roots and rocks as you follow the wide, well-marked trails.
How to get there: From Interstate 95 Exit 167 (for Etna), drive north on Route 143 for approximately 7 miles (passing straight through an intersection along the way) and turn right onto a short drive that leads to the preserve parking lot. A sign for the preserve is at the end of the drive, which is just past Cobb Road (also on the right).
Information: Pleasant Lake Preserve in Stetson began as a gift.
In 2010, Kent Hewitt donated a 100-acre wooded peninsula on Pleasant Lake to the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, as well as a 50-acre wetland adjacent to the property. The land had long been enjoyed by boaters, fishermen, hunters and hikers, and he wanted to ensure public access well into the future. Now called Pleasant Lake Preserve, the property features 1.8 miles of hiking trails that lead through a mixed forest and wetlands to the edge of Pleasant Lake.
From the preserve’s parking area off Route 143, visitors can follow blue blazes along a woods road that crosses private woodlot to reach the preserve. This blue-blazed route is called a “right-of-way” and is also used by snowmobiles in the winter.
Descending a long, gradual hill, the woods road — surfaced with gravel and rock — weaves through a mixed forest for about 0.5 mile before entering into the preserve at the edge of a wetland area. A small sign posted on a tree to the right of the trail will let you know when you’re crossing the preserve boundary.
Entering the preserve, the trail crosses through the wetlands, which is a great place for bird watching year round, then plunges back into the woods. Sebasticook Regional Land Trust completed a selective timber harvesting on the peninsula in 2013, and the preserve trails were completed in 2014.
The preserve is open to hunting, fishing and non-motorized recreation, such as hiking, wildlife watching and skiing. Dogs are permitted. Snowmobiles, ATVs, fires and overnight use are prohibited.
The blue-blazed trail ends at the edge of lake, and just before that is a side trail that forms a 0.4-mile loop and is marked with yellow tape and yellow-orange blazes. The yellow trail is slightly more difficult than the blue trail; it’s narrower and travels over hillier terrain.
The preserve can also be accessed from the water. The public is welcome to launch boats at the lake outlet dam donated to the town by Hewitt. The dam is on Stetson Stream and includes a ladder for alewives. The drive leading to the dam is off Route 143, just north of the preserve entrance. And you are driving north, it’ll be on your right.
A non-profit organization, Sebasticook Regional Land Trust has been conserving farmlands, forest and wetlands in the Sebasticook River Watershed since 2008, and has so far conserved more than 2,800 acres. The trust runs an outdoor education program and works with the Waldo County Trails Coalition to build miles of trails for the public to enjoy.
For information, visit www.sebasticookrlt.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 948-3766.
Personal note: My fingers tingled and burned as I tried to hold my camera steady, and I noticed my arms were shaking ever so slightly. I had to get moving, warm up. On Dec. 28 in Stetson, it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and it felt colder. Pulling a colorful fleece-lined neck warmer over my frozen cheeks and nose, I walked quickly along the trail, snow crunching underfoot.
I’d left my dog Oreo at home, and I was glad. His short fur can’t protect him from weather that cold.
As I walked the trails of Pleasant Lake Preserve, I took notice of small details: a frozen fern, bright green against the fresh snow; a red squirrel picking seeds out of a pine cone as it sat on a log; chickadees flitting about overhead; tiny rows of holes in a tree trunk, the work of a yellow-bellied sapsucker. The bird drills the holes, then laps up the sap and insects with its long tongue. And in the spring, I reflected, hummingbirds might visit these holes to feed off the sap seeping from the tree.
I knew I needed to keep moving to stay warm, but I couldn’t help pausing from time to time to examine animal tracks crossing the trail. If you followed them long enough, they began to tell a story. Though I’m no expert tracker, I could identify hare, squirrel and deer tracks, and I came across another set of tracks that were either from a dog, coyote or wild cat.
As I walked under the shade of evergreens, I found myself lingering under any gaps in the canopy, just to feel the warmth of the sun. It was during one of those pauses that I looked up and saw a bald eagle wheeling overhead. It was so close that I could make out the solid white of its head and tail, marking it as an adult of at least five years old.
At the end of the blue-blazed trail, I stood at the edge of the Pleasant Lake, where the water had frozen into a thin layer of glassy ice. It wouldn’t be long before the lake was frozen over completely and the ice thick enough to support snowmobiles and ice skaters and fishermen looking to drill some holes and set some traps.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl.