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For an outstanding spring hike offering one of the best river views in Maine, consider a walk out to Squirrel Point Lighthouse in Arrowsic on the eastern shore of the Kennebec River.
The one-mile trail starts at the end of the Bald Head Road and leads through forest and marsh to the light. From the Woolwich Dairy Queen on Route 1 follow Route 127 south for 4.5 miles. Turn right onto the Bald Head Road and follow it 3.3 miles to its end. The road is paved for the first hundred yards, then well-maintained gravel the rest of the way. (Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer Map No. 6 for help in getting there.)
As you start down the blue-blazed trail note the impressive stone walls on each side of the trail. Through a striking grove of sumac you will catch a glimpse of the Kennebec River on the right. In a few minutes you will come to a sign at a fork in the trail. The blue-blazed trail heads off to the left to the tip of Bald Head, a half hour walk away. We will leave that walk for another time. Stay to the right and follow the unblazed trail leading out to the lighthouse. Just after you cross over a narrow marsh on a wooden bridge the trail will fork again. Go left this time as indicated by a green sign on a tree.
The trail meanders up through a dark forested knob after passing through a dense stand of white cedar. Suddenly you emerge out of the forest and enter the world of water and sky. The lighthouse, built in 1895, sits on a grassy bluff above the river. Wooden boardwalks lead from the keeper’s house down to the light, and then south 50 yards to a red brick oil house.
The cement platform on the south side of this building is a fabulous spot to gain protection from any northerly breezes and soak up the power of the spring sun. You have the whole river before you. Two miles to the south you will see the white keeper’s house, lighthouse and fog bell tower on Perkins Island.
We visited on an outgoing tide and it was amazing watching the powerful current sweep by the light, the swirling of fierce eddies, and the rush and gurgle of water accelerating around a protruding ledge near the lighthouse. Within an hour the current and eddies changed dramatically. The heads of many harbor seals and river otters bobbed up and down working the eddy lines in search of an easy meal. A dozen Canada geese drifted with the flow on the far shoreline.
There are bullet trains, and there are common mergansers. They’re both fast. Many solitary males and a threesome whizzed by us a foot above the water, their brilliant black and white wings stark against the roiling blue waters. All we needed to see next to make the picture complete was a bald eagle. Scanning the tree tops with our binoculars we discovered a mature male patiently sitting in a pine on the north end of Goat Island a half-mile west of the light.
Directly across the river is a classic rural Maine scene: a stately white church on a hill overlooking the river. The Phippsburg Congregational Church as viewed from the heights of Squirrel Point Lighthouse just might be the next cover of Downeast magazine. The church was built in 1802, and the towering English linden tree next to it was planted in 1774.
Eventually we did make it back out to our vehicle, not without many false starts due to the soporific lure of the sun and the majesty of views. Before driving home we decided to walk a hundred yards back down the Bald Head Road and check out the headstones in the New Town Cemetery.
Many were unreadable, victims of the ravages of time and weather. The small plot is laid out by family; with generations of Beals, Cobb, Tarr and more buried here. One particular section raised a question. Were they a little looser with spelling in the “old days” or had each family over the years actually changed their name? Surnames of Percy, Pearcy and Persey were buried side by side.
After a couple hours of exploring, snoozing in the sun, and river gazing it was time for our first ice cream stop of the spring back at the Dairy Queen. While in the Bath area take the time to visit the Maine Maritime Museum on Washington Street, one mile south of Bath Iron Works. The amazing displays, interactive exhibits and video features truly do recapture the essence of the Kennebec when schooners were built in countless shipyards from Gardiner to Phippsburg and passed by Squirrel Point as they made their way south to the sea.
Squirrel Point Lighthouse is administered by the Chewonki Foundation and maintained by Citizens of Squirrel Point Light. Their tireless work and vision allows the property to be enjoyed by the public year round free of charge. Tours inside the light are only available at selected times during the summer season. Historic restoration of the interior of the keeper’s dwelling is underway.