For an invigorating mid-winter snowshoe hike close to home, check out the 3/4-mile long Cousins River Trail.
This scenic trail is a joint project of the Casco Bay YMCA and the Freeport Conservation Trust. Park at the far end of the YMCA parking lot off Route 1 in Freeport (just south of the Big Indian) and look for an information kiosk a few yards up on the hill. The trail is marked with white blazes all the way to a beautiful outlook over the Cousins River.
For a short trail there is a lot of down and a lot of up – mostly down to the river, mostly up back to the Y. It will take you about 20 minutes to get down to the river. On your way back you will see snowshoe tracks coming up from the Freeport Inn Cafe a hundred yards below you on the left. The delicious all-day breakfast menu and homemade soups and stews have led many a dedicated snowshoer astray. The cafe is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. the rest of the week.
As you enter the dark evergreen forest from the YMCA note the ledges high up on the left. Groundwater seepage has created many tongues of gray ice dotting the hillside. The trail leads into a sun-splashed glade dotted with many small white pines, and then follows a wide lane past many striking red pine and an occasional large white birch.
Eventually the trail comes to a fork at a green sign that indicates a private trail leading to an outlook known as River’s Edge. Take the left fork and continue to follow the white blazes to the Cousins River. Just before you get to the river you will snowshoe through a flat area dotted with white pine. There is enough open space under the medium-sized pines to explore in the soft powder.
When we arrived at the river we were hit with the full power of the midday sun. We stood at the edge of the salt marsh plateau and absorbed every calorie of warmth as a brisk northwesterly breeze nipped at our backs. A flock of black ducks lifted off the water in a rush of wings, their white breasts flashing in the sun.
The early morning high tide had deposited a layer of soft, pliable ice over the matted brown marsh grasses. We snowshoed 200 yards south along the twisting river, enjoying the cushiony spring of the ice and grass. The marsh ended abruptly at a wall of ice-laden cliffs abutting the river. A large boulder sat on the grass, its bottom half encrusted in a milky white veneer of ice.
Across the river many multi-hulled boats sat along the shoreline of the Even Keel Marina and Greene Marina. We enjoyed a laugh at a very clever name on one of the boats: “Tis Naut.” During the summer months you often see members of the Yarmouth Rowing Club out in their sculls, gracefully gliding by. It was amazing to us that here it was mid-January and they could have been out here with us today rowing up and down the unfrozen river.
To the south a dazzling array of brilliant diamonds danced on the water. We scanned the water with our binoculars, looking up and down the river. The white Yarmouth Water District Tower stood watch over us to the west. Days Crabmeat sat silent, in wait for the summer tourists to arrive. Traffic sped by on Interstate 295 and Route 1, providing a steady hum of rubber on pavement and engine noise mixed with the song of the wind in the trees, the calls of crows and blue jays, and tree tappings of woodpeckers echoing back and forth across the river. Although we did not see a bald eagle or marsh hawk, you may on your visit. During some winters a number of snowy owls can be seen escaping the food scarcity of the Canadian tundra.
On our way back to the Y we meandered back and forth off the trail checking out the variety of trees. Many of the hardwoods had unique gnarled burls growing on them. Many large tree stumps covered with caps of snow indicated that the forest had once been a mature one, full of many grand old trees. And of course, like any southern Maine patch of woods, we found our obligatory stone wall indicating that long ago the land had transitioned from colonial forest, to cleared pastureland, back to forest.
As we neared the heights above the parking lot we stopped to scan through the trees to the west hoping to gain a glimpse of lofty Mount Washington 70 miles away. Years ago you could see Mount Washington on a clear day from Route 1 near the Big Indian. Over the decades the trees have grown high enough to cover up that view. On our scan from the woods we were not sure if the culprit was the trees or the striking lenticular cloud cover hovering far to the west.
More snow will come. Get the snowshoes positioned at the back door, and ready to make a break for the winter beauty of woods and shore. The Cousins River Trail offers many delights within minutes of your vehicle. Don’t forget that option of inviting your friends to join you for a “Snowshoeing to Breakfast” adventure should you decide to swoop down out of the woods to the Freeport Inn Cafe.
Note: the Cousins River Trail is not suitable for cross-country skis – too narrow and too hilly.
For a trail map check out the Freeport Conservation Trust online at freeportconservationtrust.org, where you can print out an excellent map, and learn more about their many other properties in Freeport.