Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the trails and roads you choose to hike. The refuge features a wide variety of trails, including two wheelchair accessible trails. For those looking for more of a challenge, there are several hiking trails that travel for miles through designated federal wilderness and are minimally maintained.
How to get there: The Baring Division of the refuge is located in the town of Baring, which is just southwest of Calais in Washington County. From the intersection of Main Street and North Street in downtown Calais, drive west on North Street 3.3 miles (the road is also Route 1 and will become Baring Street), then turn left onto Charlotte Road. Charlotte Road leads through the refuge. As you follow the road, you’ll come across a few trailheads and a wheelchair-accessible wildlife observation deck. Follow Charlotte Road 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Headquarters Road, which soon splits to become a 1-way road that forms a loop and visits the refuge headquarters and a few different parking areas for various trailheads.
Information: Established in 1937, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 30,000 acres in Washington County and is split into two divisions: the coastal Edmunds Division and the larger, inland Baring Division, which is home to the refuge headquarters.
For this column, I’ll focus on the 20,000-acre Baring Division and leave the Edmunds Division for another day.
All national wildlife refuges, including Moosehorn, are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with the first priority of protecting wildlife and its habitat, and a secondary priority of providing opportunities for wildlife-related education and recreation. Fortunately, these two goals often go hand-in-hand.
Several well-maintained trails are located near the refuge headquarters. These trails include: the 0.3-mile Woodcock Trail, which is a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail that is excellent for birding; the 1-mile Greg’s Pond Trail, where hikers can enjoy wildlife watching for an observation blind; the 0.7-mile Charlotte Trail, which is a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail with many interpretive panels; the 1.4-mile Raven Trail, which travels through a dense forest and fire break to Dudley Swamp; and the 3-mile Headquarters Loop Trail, an interpretive walk on dirt roads that visits several ponds and wetlands, as well as mixed forests and fields.
Along these trails are many examples of how FWS improves habitat for wildlife, and often there are interpretive signs nearby to explain the management practices. For example, Moosehorn’s fire management program uses controlled burns to remove accumulated dead vegetation and minimize the chance of wildfires. FWS also conducts timber harvesting to clear areas of the forest and allow for new growth. These management practices creates young forest where certain species thrive, including moose, deer, woodcock and a variety of songbirds.
Also along the trails are examples of wetlands management, where water control structures on marshes and ponds allow managers to maintain optimal water levels for plant growth and feeding by waterfowl. The refuge is a home to a variety of wetlands, including a number of scenic ponds, which serve as breeding areas and migration stops for a variety of waterfowl and wading birds. Black ducks, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, Canada geese and common loons are often spotted in the refuge’s lakes and marshes, according to a brochure provided online and at the refuge headquarters.
On the other hand, approximately one third of the refuge is designated as “federal wilderness” and is managed with a “hands-off” philosophy to allow these areas to develop into old-growth forests. In these areas, all mechanical means of transportation, including bicycling, are not allowed, but there are several primitive hiking trails that weave through these untouched forests for visitors to explore. Four of these hiking trails — the Conic Road Trail, Conic Lake Trail, Hanson Road Trail and Bearce Road Trail — have trailheads on Route 191 in Baring. Don’t let the names of these hiking trails fool you; they are not like roads at all. They’re narrow footpaths that are minimally maintained. In fact, refuge management advises people bring a map and compass with them while exploring these trails because they can be difficult to follow at times.
More established, well-maintained trails in the Baring Division include: The 0.3-mile Woodcock Trail, which is a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail that is excellent for birding; the 1-mile Greg’s Pond Trail, where hikers can enjoy wildlife watching for an observation blind; the 0.7-mile Charlotte Trail, which is a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail with many interpretive panels; the 1.4-mile Raven Trail, which travels through a dense forest and fire break to Dudley Swamp; and the 3-mile Headquarters Loop Trail, an interpretive walk on dirt roads that visits several ponds and wetlands, as well as mixed forests and fields.
Regardless of the trail or trails you explore, you’re bound to see wildlife. Visitors often watch bald eagles and nesting osprey off Charlotte Road, which leads through the center of the refuge to the headquarters. The birds can be viewed from a distance by using tower viewers that are free to use at a large wheelchair-accessible observation deck off Charlotte Road.
The refuge is also home to a wide variety of songbirds, including 26 species of migrating warblers and northern forest species, such as the boreal chickadee. And black bear are often spotted foraging along the refuge’s many roads, especially in the springtime, and in the blueberry fields in August, according to refuge brochures. White-tailed deer, moose, coyotes, snowshoe hares, beaver and river otters are also common in the refuge.
Moosehorn is open to the public from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset, seven days a week. Admission is free. Dogs are permitted if on leash at all times. Bikes are permitted on certain roads and trails. Fishing is also permitted in certain areas, and deer hunting is permitted in November.
The refuge headquarters, which houses the administrative offices, gift store and visitor information desk, and is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 207-454-7161. You can also find information on the refuge’s mobile phone app at moosehorn.toursphere.com, and online at fws.gov/refuge/Moosehorn.
Personal note: A blanket of thick white clouds stretched to the horizon as I drove east on Route 9 on May 28 with my friend Lacey and her dog, Vail. But by some miracle, as we arrived in Calais, the sky cleared. Following Charlotte Road into the refuge, we pulled over to check out the wildlife observation deck, where we looked through tower viewers at an adult bald eagle perched atop telephone pole overlooking Magurrewok Marsh.
At the refuge headquarters, apple trees scattered throughout the finely manicured lawns were in full bloom. As it was Sunday, the administration building was closed, but a refuge officer stopped her pickup truck and asked if we needed help. She then proceeded to let us into the administration building so we could snatch up a few brochures and a trail map, and when I asked her what the most popular trail of the refuge was, she directed us to the 3-mile Headquarters Loop.
Glancing at a sheet on the desk, the officer reported that a young black bear had been spotted foraging by the refuge roads recently, but aside from that, the only reported wildlife sightings in the past week were lots of black flies. So before Lacey and I headed into the woods, we sprayed on plenty of insect repellent, and even when we started to sweat in the sun, we kept on our fleece jackets. We decided we’d rather be hot than itchy.
Fortunately, on the wide Headquarters Loop, the blackflies weren’t bad in several spots, especially where we caught a good breeze or entered an open, sunny area. Highlights of our hike were the scenic ponds located along the trail, where we spotted eastern painted turtles basking in the sun, waterbugs dancing over the still surface, dragonflies snatching up insects, and birds snatching up dragonflies. At one such pond, known as Otter Flowage, we sat in the grass and ate lunch while watching about a dozen Canada geese preening on the rocks and swimming through the perfect reflections of spruce trees lining the shore. In that one spot, the blackflies left us in peace — for the most part.
At one point along the loop, we became adventurous and veered off to explore the more primitive Mullen Meadow Wilderness Trails. We walked one of these narrow hiking trails for about two miles, stopping several times to point out different woodland flowers, including lady’s slippers just blooming, patches of trout lilies and violets. Finally, we decided to turn around at a fairly large pond, thinking that the hordes of black flies — and occasional squadron of mosquitoes — just might drive us insane if we went any farther.
After our hike, we drove to nearby Calais, parked in the shade, cracked the windows, and left Vail sleeping in the car while we ate quesadillas and nachos at South of the Border restaurant, named thus for being just south of the US-Canada border and offering a wide variety of Mexican food, as well as a full bar of drinks and a menu of random comfort food, such as hamburgers and chicken alfredo. The prices were good, the service super friendly, and the food satisfactory.