Sometimes you want to be in the mountains and at the shore at the same time. If you do not have the time to drive up to the Camden Hills or Acadia National Park, then 40-acre Higgins Mountain Preserve in Georgetown is a fun alternative.
A half-mile loop trail traverses quickly up through a mixed forest canopy onto expansive ledges offering distant views south and east over Sheepscot Bay and the open Atlantic. We visited very early one morning and enjoyed a brilliant orange-red sunrise as we swept the horizon with our binoculars from the open ledges.
Early morning clouds and haze limited our views a bit, but we still were able to pick out many familiar landmarks. We were thrilled to be able to find three lighthouses: Hendricks Head Light on Southport Island to our east, the uniquely shaped Cuckolds Light to the southeast, and mighty Seguin standing resolute on its island fortress seven miles due south.
The long line of Damariscove Island lies two miles beyond the Cuckolds Light. As far back as the early 1600s this two-mile long angular island supported a robust summer fishing colony. Facing severe food shortages, members of the Plymouth Colony visited Damariscove in 1622 and were given abundant stores free for the taking.
In a startling rush of wings a flock of cedar waxwings suddenly descended upon the stunted trees dotting the ledges. The brilliant yellow strip at the end of their tail, their black Zorro-like face mask, and stylish hair crest make them one of the most attractive of birds primarily colored brown. Waxwings most often arrive in large flocks, and are very social with each other. They can often be observed sitting in a line passing a berry or flower petal beak to beak down the line to a hungry companion at the end of the row. It is kind of like going to a Portland Sea Dogs baseball game and passing a delicious hot dog from vendor to customer down a long row of salivating fans to its intended mouth. It takes great discipline and an unwavering sense of social order to keep the food moving.
The ledges are covered with blueberry bushes chock full of plump green berries. It looks to be a good berry year. We sprawled down on the ledges and listened to the morning unfold. Many distinctive bird calls rose up out of the forest below us and enveloped the summit in a wonderful melody. The “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” song of the white-throated sparrow held center stage while earnest mourning doves cooed backup vocals. Crows and blue jays added just the right amount of the screech component to the mix.
Many gnarled pitch pines dot the summit area. They displayed many distinctive stages of seed dispersal, from brown flowers to open weathered cones. Some of the cones are gray holdovers from last year, the light brown ones are newer ones, and the egg-shaped dense green cones are mere youngsters. We also noted some very small baby cones in the making, a half inch tall and tenaciously clinging to the branches. The cones take two years to mature and open during winter to begin the process of spreading their seeds. Their cones are often the ones you find adorning Christmas wreaths. The pitch pine is the only pine in the northeast with three needles. You will note charred remains of tree limbs scattered about the ledges. A fire in 2004 burned a portion of the preserve.
We spent a lazy hour about the summit, taking turns with the binoculars, hoping that the visibility would improve a tad more to see if we could spot magical Monhegan Island rising out of the Gulf of Maine 23 miles to the east. If you are there on a crisp blue-sky day let us know if you see it!
To get to the preserve follow Route 127 south for 7.6 miles from Route 1 in Woolwich. The preserve is on the right, opposite a yellow ranch-style home. If you pass by Georgetown Pottery on the right you have gone 0.7 miles too far. You can combine your walk with a visit to Reid State Park for a swim, or drive four miles from the preserve to the end of the road at Five Islands for a lobster dinner in one of the most beautiful coastal settings in Maine. Somehow the community of Five islands has figured out how to make time stand still. And of course you still have the requisite stop at the iconic Woolwich Dairy Queen back on Route 1 to cap off your outing.
Higgins Mountain Preserve is one of seven outstanding properties under the auspices of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (kennebecestuary.org). A comprehensive guide of their properties is available online or at the kiosk at the Higgins Mountain Preserve.
It may not offer the all-day mileage of the big mountains, but this small mountain offers big-mountain vistas and memories. At 259 feet of elevation it is the tallest point of land in Georgetown. If you want more miles and more vertical just hike the loop in one direction, and then hike it later in the opposite direction.