Difficulty: Easy. The 0.9-mile hike is over mostly even terrain with a few small hills, exposed tree roots and rocks. Footbridges have been constructed over the soggiest sections of trail.
How to get there: From downtown Belfast, drive west on Main Street and turn right onto Waldo Avenue. Drive 1.5 miles, then turn right onto Doak Road. Drive 0.8 mile, and the small parking area for the preserve is on the left, directly across from Doak’s Machine Shop, which is located at 83 Doak Road.
Information: Located on a scenic, undeveloped part of the Passagassawakeag River, the 53-acre Stover Preserve features a hike that is just under 1 mile long and visits viewpoints on the banks of the river. Marked with blue blazes, the trail travels through forestland that includes a grove of old white pines and mixed conifer-hardwood stands.
The preserve was conserved by Coastal Mountains Land Trust in 2004 with the support of Lee and Donna Stover. It serves as a quiet, peaceful place to walk not far from the activity of downtown Belfast.
From the parking area, a blazed trail travels into the forest and splits into a 0.8-mile loop about 0.05 mile from the trailhead. Since you’ll be retracing your steps along this short trail to reach the parking area after completing the loop, the hike is about 0.9 mile long.
To make walking easier for visitors in certain areas, narrow bog bridges and wider wooden footbridges have been constructed throughout the trail. There’s even one small set of wooden stairs to help hikers up a hump in the forest floor.
Some interesting features of the preserve include old stone walls and apple trees, evidence that the land was once someone’s homestead, as well as old multi-trunk pine trees. Curious as to why those particular pines had such irregular trunks, I did a little digging, and what I found is fascinating.
According to the New England Forestry Foundation, white pines typically grow straight on one thick trunk. The species has a tolerance for shade, meaning it can survive under the branches of competing trees for years and years, slowly growing until shoots past other tree species in height, sometimes reaching over 100 feet tall. However, when a white pine is grown out in the sun — say in a field — it is more susceptible to damage by the white pine weevil, an insect that lays eggs in the main shoot of young pines and ultimately kills them. To combat this, the pine will send a lateral branch up toward the sun, making it the new main shoot. This results in multiple trunks and a rather oddly shaped tree.
Many of these multi-trunked pines developed when farms shut down throughout New England in the late 19th and 20th centuries as white pines grew up in abandoned fields. Foresters often refer to them as “old field pines” or “wolf pines.”
Other trees found in the preserve include yellow and white birch, hemlock, cedar, and brown ash, which is traditionally used by Wabanaki people of the region for basket weaving.
This preserve is a part of the Passagassawakeag Greenway, a system of trails along the undeveloped upper reaches of the river, which flows into Belfast Harbor and is known by locals as “The Passy.” To date, the Greenway consists of the Knowlton-Swanson-Stephenson Preserve, the Stover Preserve and a trail on a former ski slope property owned by the City of Belfast. These trails are not connected; however, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust has a goal of developing the Greenway so that the trails connect and people can explore the forested bluffs of the river from downtown Belfast.
Stover Preserve is open to foot traffic during daylight hours. Bicycles, motorized vehicles, horses, camping and fires are not permitted. Dogs are permitted but must be on leash at all times. Hunting of certain animals is permitted in accordance with state laws, however, predator hunting (fox, bobcat, coyote, etc.), as well as trapping, is not allowed. Groups larger than 12 must obtain permission before using the preserve. For more information, visit coastalmountains.org or call (207) 236-7091.
Personal note: I slowly drove past the parking lot for Stover Preserve on Sunday, debating with myself about whether or not I should attempt to drive over the small snowbank and into the unplowed space. I then scanned the side of the road for space to park on the shoulder instead, and that’s when I spotted the parking area for the nearby Head of Tide Preserve, which was plowed. It was my lucky day.
It was only about 20 degrees Fahrenheit out, but it felt warm after days of bitter cold and wind chills below zero. Stepping out of my vehicle with a travel mug of tea in hand, I greeted my coworker Abby, who was there waiting for me. She, too, had decided to park at the neighboring preserve. Separately, both of us had explored Head of Tide Preserve, which features 2 miles of trails, but we’d never ventured over to the neighboring, smaller Stover Preserve.
There wasn’t quite enough snow on the ground to warrant using snowshoes, so we walked down the road in our winter boots, stepped over the snowbank, checked out the kiosk, then began our hike.
Right away, we entered a stand of white pine trees with forked trunks and wondered aloud at what might make the trees grow that way. (I hope Abigail enjoys the explanation that I dug up and included in the “information” section above.) We paused several times to inspect tracks made by snowshoes hares and white-tailed deer, as well as tunnel-like tracks, which we guessed to be made by voles. And near the end of the hike, we stopped to look at rows of tiny holes drilled in the trunks of old apple trees by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a bird that eats tree sap. The holes — or sapwells — the bird leaves behind become a source of food for a number of other animals, including hummingbirds, bats and porcupines. The damage done to the bark can eventually kill a tree, but more often, it only weakens a tree for a time.