Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on the trails you choose to hike within the park. There are about 7.5 miles of trails to walk, and many of them are shorter than 1 mile and travel over fairly even terrain.
How to get there: From the roundabout by Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill, take Route 15 (Route 176) west toward Brooksville. In about 4 miles, the road comes to a T. Turn right onto Route 176 and drive 2.5 miles. Before the Gulf Station, turn left onto Route 175 (Frank’s Flat Road) and cross a bridge over the Bagaduce River. After a little over a mile, you’ll come to a T; turn right onto Route 176 (Coastal Road). Drive 0.1 mile, then turn left onto Varnumville Road. Drive 2.6 miles and you’ll come to a T; turn left onto Route 176 (Coastal Road). Drive 1.7 mile and turn right onto Cape Rosier Road. You should start seeing brown road signs directing you to Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park by now. Drive 1.6 miles and turn right onto Back Road. Most of the trailhead parking areas of the park are located on Back Road and marked with signs. A trail map will help you decide where to park.
Information: Located in the coastal town of Brooksville, Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park was donated to the State of Maine in 1971 by a local resident named Anita Harris. A nature lover, Harris wished this gift would “preserve for the future a piece of unspoiled Maine that [she] used to know.”
The park is 1,230 acres and protects a variety of habitats, including old fields, a pond, an estuary and saltwater marsh, the mossy evergreen forests of Backwoods Mountain, a beaver flowage, and rocky beaches on the Penobscot Bay. It also includes Holbrook Island, a small isle off the coast near Goose Falls.
The park also features a number of old family cemeteries, old foundations and impressive stone walls that remain from people who used to live and farm on the land — the Bakemans, Hutchins, Howards and Grays.
A part of Maine’s state park system, the park is managed in a way that keeps with Harris’s vision. Therefore, the park has not and will not be altered by modern park facilities and management techniques. A network of old farm roads and paths have simply been turned into blazed hiking trails for visitors to explore, and the forest and other natural habitats have been left in Mother Nature’s hands.
The park is home to about 7.5 miles of marked hiking trails; some are loop trails, while other must be hiked out and back.
In all, there are nine trails: Bakeman Farm, Fresh Pond, Aaron, Summit, Goose Falls, Beaver Flowage, Goose Falls, Back Shore, Ice Works and Mountain Loop trails. Trail maps and brochures are available at trailheads throughout the park, but it’s always wise to do a little research ahead of time. You can print off a trail map and learn details about each trail on the Friends of Holbrook Island Sanctuary website, friendsofholbrook.org.
Also available on the website is the card required for the “I Hiked Holbrook” trail challenge. Designed for young hikers, the challenge is a kind of scavenger hunt. A different “secret symbol” is posted on each of the nine trails. Hikers are tasked with finding and drawing each of the symbols on the challenge card, along with the date they hiked each trail. And when all nine symbols are gathered, students grades K-8, can turn their cards into park headquarters for a free T-shirt.
The park is also a spectacular place for bird watchers. At several of the trailheads is a bird checklist for the park, which includes more than 200 species of birds, as well as their seasonal occurrence and relative abundance on the property. Common species found on the property include the common loon, great blue heron, American black duck, red-breasted merganser, bald eagle, ruffed grouse, killdeer, great black-backed gull, belted kingfisher, northern flicker, gold-crowned kinglet, cedar waxwing, dark-eyed junco and many more.
The park is open to the public year round, from 9 a.m. to sunset, for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, though trails are not groomed. Dogs are permitted if on a 4-foot leash at all times. Hunting and camping are not permitted, and fires are permitted in park grills only.
For information, call 326-4012 or visit maine.gov/holbrookisland.
Personal note: In an effort to embrace the warm front that swept through Maine last week, I took my dog Oreo on a hike at Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park. It was Feb. 4, and the temperature was hovering in the low 50s — extremely warm for this time of year in Maine. I hiked in a T-shirt.
I figured we only had time to complete two of the park’s nine trails that afternoon, so I chose the Summit Trail and the Back Cove Trail so I could visit both a mountain and the ocean. I plan to return in the spring or summer to do a little birdwatching at the park’s pond, beaver flowage and saltwater marsh.
The Summit Trail traveled through one of the most beautiful mossy forests I’ve ever seen. To be surrounded by that much green in February was a real treat.
The trail started out easy and gradual, then became rocky with a few steep, slippery sections. As we hiked along the foot of a small cliff, I spotted two giant piles of porcupine droppings, which told me that a porcupine must be denning up nearby — likely in the many nooks and crannies of the cliff. Seeing that, I was especially glad to have Oreo on a leash.
Near the summit of the mountain, we ate a snack while sitting on a bench at an overlook. Through the trees, we caught glimpses of the nearby ocean, where we were headed next.
The Back Cove Trail was completely different from the mountain trail. It lead through overgrown fields and past several old foundations, an old root cellar and a family cemetery, on its way to the ocean. The trail ended at a rocky beach, covered with seaweed, mussel shells, periwinkles and barnacle-encrusted rocks. Oreo went straight to the water, where I allowed him to wade and climb over mounds of seaweed. The sun, dim in the overcast sky, was just touching the tree tops when we left the beach to return to the car.