A short drive from the center of busy Topsham, you can time travel back to the 19th century. That’s sort of how it felt during our visit to Head of Tide Park where we hiked the Cathance River Trail.

Cathance, pronounced Cat–hance, is an Abenaki name meaning “crooked,” which is an apt description of the twisting river that winds inland from Merrymeeting Bay. Over a century ago this place was the site of a bustling mill where feldspar, a stone used in the making of dinnerware, was ground to a fine powder.

The trail begins at the newly finished park where there’s a scenic picnic area, bathrooms and an informational kiosk. It eventually links up with the Cathance River Nature Preserve at Highland Park. We trekked a little over a mile as far as Clay Brook, the boundary separating the two preserves where a majestic 60-foot aluminum bridge spans the divide.

The well-packed path, suitable for all ages, is easily traversed snaking southward and west as it follows the twisting river course. At the outset it crosses Adams Landing and Cathance Roads, then runs alongside a meadow humming with insects.

Wooden planking covers a wet area that passes through a patch of enormous skunk cabbage and cinnamon fern. Hemlocks, black spruce, poplar, oak, beech and birch trees abound providing an ideal wildlife habitat for whitetail deer (we caught site of a doe), ducks, beaver, squirrels and raccoon.

Pink Lady Slippers, now in full bloom, can be seen along with diminutive white snowcap flowers and patches here and there of wild strawberries, and blueberries. A series of timbers serve nicely as steps in two areas running downhill. A row of flat stones were laid to carry hikers across a boggy area.

The Rogers Road, a side trail, slopes gradually to the river where you’ll see a few piling and stone abutments — all that remains of a bridge that once stood here. Along the muddy shore, a blue heron labored up into the clear sky flying gracefully down river.

It’s about a 30-minute walk from Head of Tide Park to the Clay Brook Bridge, unless, like us, you decide to explore the Blueberry and Old Roger Road trails. Dogs are permitted here, but aren’t allowed in the abutting Cathance River Nature Preserve.

Before you leave be sure to have a look around Head of Tide Park. Here you’ll see the dam once used to power the mill. At the pavilion opposite of the river signage tells of the site’s colorful history. In the 1870s feldspar was processed here from ore taken from nearby open pit mines. The “Spar Mill,” as it was called, operated until after World War II and in its heyday processed roughly 16 tons of ore a day. Higher-grade white feldspar was used as an ingredient in making fine china and porcelain products. Several of the mill’s old grindstones and assorted pieces used in the refining process can be seen.

The Cathance River Trail and Head of Tide Park crosses privately owned “conserved land” managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Head of Tide Park is protected with assistance from Land for Maine’s Future.

According to Angela Twitchell, BTLT executive director, the town of Topsham and BTLT partner on the management of the park. The trail was built by the BTLT. For more information and trail map visit, www.btlt.org.

Getting there: From the Brunswick-Topsham Bypass take a right at the traffic signal onto Route 124, Middlesex Road and follow to the Cathance Road. A short ways from the railroad crossing you’ll see the two park entrances on the right.

Phil Di Vece has resided in Maine since 1979 and written two books on Wiscasset history. He works as a freelance journalist and an active retiree at L.L. Bean in Freeport.

 

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