The Great Outdoors: Exploring Potts Point Preserve in Harpswell
If you enjoy lighthouse vistas, bird watching, beach combing, and the sounds and sights of the open sea we have just the place for you: Potts Point Preserve in Harpswell.
This two-acre preserve sits at the very tip of Harpswell Neck and is surrounded by water.
Drive south on Route 123 from Brunswick to the private Potts Point Road (see Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer Map No. 6) and park on the east side of the turnaround. Parking is a little tricky as there is not much space, but you will find a spot. Do not block the entrance to the boat launch ramp and the operations of the wharf at Dick’s Lobster. Enjoy this walk before Memorial Day as folks get a bit cranky about the parking situation in the summer.
You can walk out to the preserve via either the Potts Point Road, or you can walk along the beach below the high tide line on the western side of the point. We walked out the road and returned via the beach to enjoy views on both sides of the narrow point. We saw many purple finches flitting in and out of the shrubs adjacent to the cottages along the road, and marveled at the girth of two large pitch pines as we neared the tight confines of a prickly hedgerow providing access out to the sandbar leading onto the preserve.
The preserve is really an island environment connected to the mainland by a thread of dry land. Rose bushes, sumac, marsh grasses, and spindly trees are hanging on for dear life above the tidal zone. We found a comfortable log to sit on and enjoyed the views out over Merriconeag Sound to Bailey Island, all the while basking in the power of the late April sun.
Low tide is the best time to visit because there are many large tidal pools that attract a variety of wading birds. We heard the high-pitched calls of two greater yellowlegs and watched them probing the water for food. These birds are sometimes called the “telltale birds,” as it doesn’t take much to get them calling and warning other birds of potential danger.
We closed our eyes and listened to all the sounds, some of nature, others of man: eider ducks cooing, geese honking, loons calling, and the throb of lobster boat engines. A black vee of thirty cormorants flew low over the point toward the rising sun. A lobsterman in a small skiff pulled traps below the white gazebo perched on the northeastern cliff of Haskell Island.
As we walked around the point and looked far to the west the impressive shimmering white hulk of Mt. Washington rose mystically up over the bay. It is still very much winter on New England’s tallest peak, 60 miles away.
We excitedly scanned the southern horizon with our binoculars looking for Portland-area lighthouses. Portland Head Light flashed its powerful beam toward us. The twin lights in Cape Elizabeth looked like two white candles emerging up out of the cliffs. The brown conical profile of Ram Island Ledge Light was a bit harder to find, but there it was at water level just to the left of Portland Head Light.
Two miles to the south the fortress-like profile of Eagle Island rises out of the sea. The former summer home of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary is embedded into the cliffs on the northern end of the island.
The shoreline of Potts Point is covered with mounds of weathered mussel shells and many shapes, sizes and colors of periwinkles. We were surprised to find the tracks of a large deer in the sand. It seemed a very odd place for a deer to hang out, not much forage to graze on.
After an hour of exploring we started back up the beach to our vehicle, with plans excitedly being made to kayak over to the point this summer from Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island. On the way back up Route 123 we stopped at the Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell Center. Elijah Kellogg, Bowdoin College Class of 1840, was a minister here for many years. He became a popular and prolific writer of children’s books in the 1860s.
There is a delightful wildflower garden to explore on the grounds of the 1876 Centennial Hall diagonally across from the church. We enjoyed yellow crocus and daffodils on our visit. From the church we walked down the nearby Lookout Point Road for classic Maine island views out over the weathered red shanty of Allen’s Seafood.
With our appetite still keen for exploring we stopped at a small preserve on the left a mile north of the Lookout Point Road. We followed the white-blazed Wilson’s Cove Trail a half-mile down to a steep cliff overlooking Middle Bay. The evergreen forest was dense and dark and had a Longfellow “forest primeval” feel to it. What a diverse and wonderful morning of poking about Harpswell Neck we had just enjoyed. Spring yard chores now beckoned.
Potts Point Preserve is one of many land conservation projects of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. Check out their website for trail maps and descriptions of other preserves in the area.