Difficulty: Easy. The preserve trails travel over a fairly smooth forest floor and altogether total about 1.5 miles. Expect a gradual uphill climb from the shore to the parking area on both loop trails.
How to get there: From the intersection of Route 1 and Route 186 in Gouldsboro, take Route 186 (South Gouldsboro Road) and drive 1.1 miles, then turn onto Taft Point Road. Drive 0.4 mile, then turn right and follow signs to the Taft Point Preserve parking area, which has room for about six vehicles. Beyond the parking area, the road is closed to the public out of respect for the privacy of cottage owners and their guests.
Information: Taft Point Preserve covers 68 acres of forestland on the coast of Gouldsboro, and features a network of trails that altogether total about 1.5 miles. From the preserve’s rocky beaches, hikers are rewarded with views of the mountains of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, as well Stave Island, Calf Island, Schieffelin Point and Schoodic Mountain.
The preserve was gifted to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy by Jeremy Strater in 2014, and is now open to the public year round. It’s an excellent place to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods, breathe in some salty ocean air and walk along the shore. At low tide, there’s quite a bit of beach to explore.
Starting at the parking area, a kiosk is located at the south end. It displays a trail map and several laminated flyers, including a list of upcoming Frenchman Bay Conservancy events, information about Leave No Trace practices and a warning about ticks. The kiosk also features a cubby that contains a registration sheet for visitors to sign.
Just south of the kiosk, Flanders Bay Trail is marked by a wooden sign. Traveling through a mixed forest, the trail soon splits into a 0.75-mile loop that can be traveled in either direction. No matter which way you hike the loop, you’ll notice that the land slopes gradually downhill, and at the far end of the loop, the trail travels along the shore of Flanders Bay, with a just few trees between you and the water.
There you can easily clamber down the bank to a rocky beach, which at low tide can be followed north all the way to the end of the preserve’s Beach Trail. This beach walk is 0.33 mile and leads past a house. Be sure to stay below the high tide mark and respect the landowners’ privacy.
In the forest, some interesting features you’ll come across while walking the Flanders Bay Trail include a spring and an old well, both lined with rock walls. For the safety of visitors and their pets, Frenchman Bay Conservancy has surrounded both the well and spring with mesh fences. Also in the forest, you’ll pass a tall tree covered with burls, a stand of tall spruce trees and branches covered with trailing lichen called old man’s beard.
Back at the parking area, the preserve’s other loop trail, the 0.5-mile Jone Cove Trail, starts at the north end of the parking area. Like the Flanders Bay Trail, it’s marked with a wooden sign and enters the forest as a single trail that soon splits in to a loop that travels downhill to the shore.
At the far end of Jones Cove Trail, it travels close to the shore on Jones Cove; however, there’s no easy access to the beach there because the bank is steep. Branching off this loop trail on its west side is the 0.22-mile Beach Trail, which strikes west and then north to end at a rocky beach at the tip of Taft Point.
While exploring this preserve, as you approach the shore, keep in mind that water birds are often seen hunting in the shallows, and you might just catch a glimpse of some if you move quietly. Eider ducks often raft up on the rocks just off shore, according to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and shorebirds pick away at sea creatures found in the rockweed colony along the shore.
Dog are permitted but must be kept on leash or under voice control at all times. Motorized vehicles are prohibited. Hunting is permitted in accordance with state laws. The parking area is plowed regularly in the winter.
For more information, visit frenchmanbay.org or call 207-422-2328.
Personal note: I was a sniffly, coughing mess on Saturday, when I drove east to Taft Point Preserve with my dog, Oreo. Having a cold is no fun, and I figured an easy walk, some sun and a bit of fresh ocean air would do me some good. Initially, I was going to leave Oreo at home because he tends to pull on his leash and make snowshoeing (and filming) more difficult, but I couldn’t resist his desperate attentiveness when he noticed me getting dressed in long johns and a fleece — an outfit that means adventure, he’s learned.
At the preserve parking lot, the snow bank was much higher than I expected. It nearly covered the kiosk, and poor Oreo almost got lost as he struggled over it. After a freezing week, the temperatures had lifted into the mid 30s, making the snow soft. Nevertheless, Oreo forged ahead, nearly chest deep, and I slogged along behind, my snowshoes sinking and kicking up heavy powder with each step.
While we didn’t see much for wildlife that day, I did pause to appreciate the tracks left behind by what appeared to be a deer party by an old apple tree near the shore. I also came across several impressive woodpecker holes, newly drilled into the trunks of trees. And near the water, we spooked several ducks and gulls.
On the beach, I walked along chunks of ice and snow mixed with piles of seaweed and crushed shells. Sun reflected off the choppy water and waves lapped the shore. For a few minutes, I sat on a boulder covered in snow as Oreo gnawed on a stick. But it wasn’t long before the brisk winter wind drove us back into the shelter of the forest. For our entire visit, we had the preserve to ourselves.