NEWCASTLE — This month’s hike found us north of the Kennebec River in the community of Newcastle where we explored the Marsh River Preserve managed by the Midcoast Conservancy.

It features a fun, mile-long Interpretive Trail suitable for all ages that winds its way over a hilly terrain.

From downtown Wiscasset drive north on Route 1 across the Davey Bridge. Just past the Edgecomb-Newcastle town line, you’ll see the gravel entrance for Split Rock Distilling on the left, the Osprey Point Road. Turn here and bear left onto Eagle Point Road and follow it to its end where there’s a cul-de-sac. You’ll see a small kiosk marking the trailhead; there’s plenty of room to park.

Before you start your hike remember to read the rules of the preserve and sign the guest book because it’s important for Midcoast Conservancy to know how many people are visiting. Be sure to take a trail map to better enjoy your visit.

There’s just one trail leading into and out of the preserve and several short side trails to explore. The path runs downhill and blazed in white (not blue as indicated on the trail map). Not too far into the woods we heard a pileated woodpecker hammering away.

Points of interest are marked on the map to correspond with signage on the trail. The first one you’ll see is a spindly witch hazel tree, its green oval leaves just returning after the long winter. Witch Hazel is unique because its yellow ribbon-like blossom appears in autumn not spring. Its bark and leaves are distilled into a popular topical astringent for treating insect bites and poison ivy.

Logs and boardwalks span the wet areas of the trail; although a lack of rain has left the woods unusually dry this spring. A rock dike spans a babbling brook spilling into a small cove.

The map marks the location of a patch of Rattlesnake plantain, so named because of the mottling of its leaves. To see it, you’ll have to come back during the summer. Its small white flower appears in late July and August.

The trail comes to a dead end at a vast marsh meadow of salt hay. Here the river forks, forming the much smaller Deer River that runs on beyond the railroad. The other branch feeds into Sherman Marsh located on the opposite side of Route 1 where there’s a popular rest stop and picnic area.

This same marsh was once a freshwater lake of over 200 acres. In 2005, Sherman Lake, as it was called, was completely drained after a storm surge washed out an earthen dam built in the 1930s. The dam was never replaced, the area instead being left to return to its natural state.

Saltwater marshes provide important breeding grounds for migratory birds, ducks and many kinds of fish like striped bass that spawn in these brackish waters. The best time to catch sight of an egret or great blue heron is in the early morning or evening.

Older signs appear along the way marking the trails alphabetically; A through G (these aren’t shown on the newer trail map). The “F” trail loops you back through the woods past a huge boulder, or “glacial erratic,” one of several here left behind by the Ice Age. A left turn at the “C” trail carries you uphill back to the kiosk.

Midcoast Conservancy is always looking for volunteers to help maintain its trails as well as staff recreational events. To learn more about these opportunities and their other preserves, visit www.midcoastconservancy.org.

 

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