It’s a challenge to find color in the midst of a Maine winter, when so much is
decayed to brown or covered in white. But in the forest and wetlands of Day Ridges Preserve on Dec. 13, as the sun hid behind a lofty layer of clouds, I found bits of the rainbow scattered along the trails.
Plump red teaberries hung beneath waxy leaves. Beds of soft mosses and crunchy lichens formed patchworks of various greens. Neon orange globs of jelly fungi clung to tree bark. And atop a massive boulder, sprawled a colony of British soldier lichens, their seafoam green stalks capped with brilliant red.
I found blue in the fresh blazes that marked the trail. Splatters of the paint marked the leaves of understory plants here and there, reminding me of the newness of the trail network.
Day Ridges Preserve officially opened to the public in October. Owned and managed by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, the property features about 2 miles of trails that were constructed during the summers of 2020 and 2021. More than 800 hours of volunteer work went into completing them, according to the land trust website.
A recent rain and unseasonably warm weather had melted snow from the landscape before we visited in mid December. That, plus the overcast sky, had me worrying that the wilderness would appear drab in any photos I took. I was wrong, however. Nature has a habit of exceeding my expectations.
My husband, Derek, joined me for the mini adventure, along with our dog, Juno. From the preserve parking lot, we began our walk by following a woods road that’s closed to vehicle traffic. By referring to the trail map (which is available online and on a kiosk at the trailhead), we knew we’d soon find the first hiking trail on our right.
The trail network is simple. It’s basically a big loop, with a smaller loop branching off of it. Still, I referred to my map when I reached the second trail intersection, just to ensure I followed the route I intended. Never underestimate the value of a trail map, even for exploring small preserves.
The forest was home to a variety of trees, many of them evergreens. We passed through swampy stands of white cedar trees and enjoyed the Christmas-y scent of balsam firs. Great white pine trees towered overhead. There were spruce trees, too, though I won’t pretend to know what kind. I’m still learning the differences between the several spruces found in the Maine wilderness: black, white, red, blue and Norway.
Sheep laurel grew alongside the many sections of the trails. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in the summer, when the bushes are dotted with tiny pink flowers.
The trail led us to an area that had been flooded by beavers. A tiny side trail led down to the water’s edge, where we stood on a boulder for a better view of the large beaver dam that blocked the flow of the brook. Dead trees stood in the shallow, gray water. It was a lovely, spooky scene.
Continuing on the trail, we hiked to the other side of the dam, where we crossed soggy ground on a series of narrow bog bridges. All around us were trees that had been felled by beavers, their stumps whittled into low peaks, their bark gnawed away in patches.
Around the looping trail we went, marveling at little wonders along the way. On a tree stump, two long, bleached bones had been arranged to form an “X.” Was there a treasure buried beneath? Based on the size, I can only imagine the bones came from a deer, and more specifically, its leg.
On another stump, I found four giant, brown tree mushrooms growing around it like petals of a flower. The largest was about the size of a pie plate.
Some of my favorite stretches of trail were on long sections of bog bridges, perhaps because they traveled through areas that would have otherwise been too soggy to walk through comfortably – and those areas tend to be lush with moss and other interesting vegetation. To all of the people who took the time and effort to put those bridges down, board by board, thank you.
Our route, which formed a big arc through the woods, brought us back to the woods road. There we turned right (away from the trailhead) to walk to the end of the 1.2-mile road, where we jumped on a trail to reach a canoe launch on Lower West Bay Pond.
The Frenchman Bay Conservancy stores canoes at the launch for visitors to borrow during paddling season. To do this, you need to email the land trust’s land protection manager, Kat Deely, at firstname.lastname@example.org so you can pick up the key that locks the canoes, as well as paddles and lifejackets.
From the launch, paddlers can explore Lower West Bay Pond and Upper West Bay Pond, where a remote campsite is located.
In mid December, a thin layer of ice had formed over some of the pond. By the time we reached the water’s edge, Juno had already discovered the fun of breaking thin ice with her paws, then chomping on it with her teeth. It’s a good thing she was on leash, otherwise I think she would have voluntarily taken a bath in the frigid pond just to find more ice.
On our way back to the trailhead along the hilly woods road, Juno did find more ice to conquer. A thin layer of frosty ice, marked with swirling lines, had formed over several puddles in the road. Juno rushed toward it, reared up dramatically and pounced, crashing through the beautiful sight. We couldn’t help but laugh at her enthusiasm.
For more information about Day Ridges Preserve and Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s many other properties and trails, visit frenchmanbay.org or call 207-422-2328.
Directions to Day Ridges Preserve: A gravel parking lot for the preserve is located off Route 1 in Gouldsboro, 0.9 miles east of the intersection of Route 1 and Route 195. Coming from that direction, it will be on your left.