Difficulty: Easy. The hike is about 1 mile long and travels through a forest with little change in elevation. Expect uneven terrain, exposed tree roots and soggy sections of trail. However, wide wooden footbridges have been constructed over the wettest portions of trail and over small brooks.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 177 (Western County Road) and Route 175 (Southern Bay Road) in Penobscot, drive south on Route 175 for about 0.9 mile, then turn left on Gray Ridge Road. Drive about 0.25 mile and the small parking area for the preserve is on your right marked with a blue sign.
Information: A quiet place for a walk in the woods, The Richard and Virginia Weinland Nature Study Area covers 40 acres in the coastal town of Penobscot, and features a 1-mile loop trail that is open to foot traffic year round. Heavily forested in the 1970s, the property is a good example of how a forest can regenerate with a wide variety of trees, some of which are labeled with signs stating their common and scientific names.
The property was donated to The Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot by the Weinland family in late 1990s, with the request that it be used as a place for people to learn about the wilderness. The donors dedicated it their parents, Richard (1910-1992) and Virginia Weinland (1912-2014), who loved hiking slowly together and observing nature.
Virginia Weinland embraced nature photography later in life, purchasing a camera at age 60 and walking trails to find wildflowers and insects to photograph up close, according to her obituary, published in The Journal News.
“Her children and grandchildren soon learned that any hike with Grandma was not about ‘point to point’ but rather investigation along the way,” the obituary states.
Her photographs were printed in a number of books, including Audubon field guides. She lived to be 102 years old.
When The Conservation Trust merged with Blue Hill Heritage Trust in 2014, the Weinland Nature Study Area became one of many preserves owned and maintained by BHHT. Today, the land trust’s typical blue trail markers and arrows mark the trail on the property, and a blue sign and laminated trail map are located at the trailhead. BHHT also added a letterbox to the property. A small wooden box, a letterbox is part of a game called letterboxing. Inside is a special stamp that participants can use to stamp their notebooks to prove they made it to the location. Every BHHT preserve features a letterbox.
From the parking area, the trail instantly enters the forest, crossing a couple wooden footbridges before splitting into a loop, which you can hike in either direction. The entire trail travels through a mixed forest, where you’ll find a variety of ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi. The property also features vernal pools and some outcroppings of exposed granite. Some of the trees that are labeled with ID tags are yellow birch, northern red oak, white pine, bigtooth aspen, red maple, striped maple, American beech and eastern larch. And some resident wildlife include deer, moose, coyote and ruffed grouse, according to BHHT.
The property is open during daylight hours only. Camping and fires are not permitted. Dogs are permitted on leash and must be cleaned up after. BHHT asks that visitors remain on marked trails to minimize their ecological impact and respect the privacy of neighbors. Hunting is allowed with permission. For more information, call 374-5118 or visit bluehillheritagetrust.org.
Personal note: During the winter, when days are short and the weather harsh, I often choose to explore small preserves so I can go on short hikes that won’t freeze me to the bone but will still give me a change in scenery and some fresh air. Such was my line of thinking when I selected the Weinland Nature Study Area in Penobscot to visit on Saturday, Jan. 5, with my husband, Derek, and our dog, Oreo. We had never hiked the property’s loop trail before, though we’d explored nearly every other BHHT preserve. So we decided to check it off our mental list (which has grown to be quite long considering the number of land trusts and preserves in the state).
On the way to the preserve, we stopped at Crystal Clear Family Pet in Ellsworth on the off chance they had a jacket in stock that might fit Oreo. (During the winter, he almost always needs to wear a jacket to ward off the cold because he has short fur, and by now, the majority of his jackets have holes in them because one of his favorite activities is rolling and thrashing about on the ground.) To our surprise, the store had one jacket — a maroon, insulated pull-over — that fit Oreo perfectly, even around his thick neck and chest. So we purchased it and continued on our mini adventure.
At the preserve, the snow wasn’t quite deep enough for snowshoes, so we crunched through the snow in boots, careful not to slip on patches of ice underneath. As we walked, I heard the drumming and call of a pileated woodpecker — Maine’s largest woodpecker — as well as the call of a crow and the twittering of a songbird I couldn’t identify. I paused several times to photograph mushrooms and lichen covering tree trunks, and I tried to imagine how many other bits of nature would be revealed when the snow melted in the spring. Based on photos I’d seen on the BHHT website, the forest is filled with tall ferns in some places, and under the snow, I could make out hills of lush moss.
After doing some research on the history of the property, I realized that it’s the perfect place to honor the memory of the Weinlands. The trail is just the right length and difficulty for a slow nature walk. You could even bring along a camera and take some up-close photos of flora and fauna along the way, like Virginia Weinland so often did on her hikes. And, if you’re interested in learning native trees, this is a great place to start. I also hear it’s a good place to check out mushrooms, especially in the spring and fall.
Update: After publishing this column, I received some additional information from Helen Weinland, daughter of Virginia and Richard Weinland. Helen cut and cleared the trail with Warren Balgooian. She told me a number of interesting facts about the property. For example, there are limestone outcroppings located on the trail where the family scattered the ashes of two beloved family cats. And in the spring, a patch of lady’s-slippers (one of Maine’s most beautiful woodland flowers) blooms near the start of the trail, on the right side of the parking lot.