The Great Outdoors: Exploring Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath
If you are looking for an October walk in a beautiful forest setting, with outstanding water views, peace and quiet, then consider a visit to the Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath.
We recently enjoyed a three-hour afternoon walk following the blue-blazed Whiskeag Trail north toward Thorne Head, with much time spent relaxing on the shores of Whiskeag Creek.
To get to the preserve drive north on High Street in Bath. Turn left onto the Whiskeag Road. A few hundred yards on the right you will see a gravel entrance road marked by stone pillars and signs leading up into a small parking area. A map of the preserve is available at the informational kiosk. A white blazed access trail leads into the main blue-blazed Whiskeag Trail.
The Whiskeag Trail is a five-mile long system stretching from the Bath Area Family YMCA on Centre Street up into the Thorne Head Preserve, passing through Sewall Woods on its way to Thorne Head. On Sept. 18 a grand-opening celebration was held to mark the completion of the trail.
Whiskeag is an Abenaki word meaning “a creek that runs nearly dry at low tides.” The trail through Sewall Woods follows along the eastern edge of Whiskeag Creek for 2,300 feet, providing many opportunities for bird watching. Hundreds of gulls splashed about in the middle of the large v-shaped cove, an osprey wheeled overhead, and blue jay, crow and chickadee calls infiltrated the forest depths.
We visited on a full moon high tide and the water was so high that the purple asters along the shoreline were completely underwater. It was magical watching then sway under the water as wavelets rolled into the shore. In the warm afternoon sun a vast carpet of shimmering diamonds danced on the water.
The upland forest is a mix of evergreens and hardwoods. In many spots young pines have created an open, understory of soft grasses, providing open views through the woods. In other spots large hemlock offer cooling shadows. One stout red oak we roughly measured with outstretched arms was 15 feet in circumference.
The preserve features many pockets of large ash trees, their leaves now turning a vibrant golden hue. The ash in the preserve are some of the largest we have seen anywhere in Mid-Coast Maine. Ash is often sought out for firewood because it can be burned effectively, even when it is green.
We followed the blue blazes north up into the southern end of Thorne Head Preserve before turning around. Along the shoreline we found three exceptional small peninsulas sticking out into the water providing far-reaching views. Each spot is obvious, and has unmarked paths leading down to them. We scanned the sky for bald eagles, and the far shore for Canada geese. The warm sun nearly lulled us to sleep.
As you gaze north toward the Kennebec River you will spy red and green navigational buoys marking the main channel of the river as it flows past Thorne Head. The water was frothing here, and a line of boiling and hissing water buffeted the buoys. A few large wooded islands serve as natural chock stones to further confuse the seaward searching waters. A few pleasure boats passed by on their way up to Chops Point.
For amateur botanists there is a lot to enjoy at ground level, too. A few patches of wintergreen provided what we call “nature’s mouthwash.” The chewy pinkish-white berries have a wonderful zesty teaberry gum taste. A variety of mushrooms flourished in the cool moist air of autumn. Trail-side sarsaparilla leaves radiated dazzling cinnamon-red colors. Green mats of hair-cap moss provided stabilizing cover. This moss was often used in pioneer days to create a tea used in dissolving kidney and gall stones.
Gray patches of reindeer moss dotted trail-side ledges. This lichen is an important food source for caribou in the Arctic regions. It also serves mankind as an important indicator species of environmental pollution, acting as a sponge and absorbing impurities from the atmosphere. Scientists in the Chernobyl area studied it after the 1986 Ukrainian nuclear meltdown to determine how far the nuclear fallout had traveled.
Humans have had a presence here for a long time. Eight thousand years ago the Abenaki harvested wild rice from the brackish marshes. The 90-acre preserve is crisscrossed by stone walls that once marked vast hillside pastures. You will also find evidence of old dumping grounds and a foundation, all testimony to how land use changes over time, and how quickly Mother Nature re-establishes control.
The Sewall Woods Preserve is one of many diverse properties managed by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. Check out their website (www.kennebecestuary.org) for further information about the preserve and other land trust projects.