Juno walks along a bridge near a wetland on March 11, 2022, in Meadowbrook Forest in Ellsworth.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Mud squelched underfoot as I shuffled around my vehicle, preparing for our walk. I threw on an extra jacket, changed boots and wrestled my dog, Juno, into her harness. The plan was to expend energy and stretch our legs while walking a five-mile loop.

Covering 2,033 acres, Meadowbrook Forest straddles the border between the towns of Ellsworth and Surry. It features more than 11 miles of wide, gravel logging roads that are popular among bicyclists, joggers and walkers.

When looking for an outdoor destination to explore, I often search the websites of local land trusts. That’s what led me to Meadowbrook Forest on a mild day in mid March.

Meadowbrook Forest was purchased by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust in April of 2019, to become the land trust’s second largest property. (The nearby Surry Forest, purchased by BHHT in 2017, covers 2,114 acres.) It’s managed as a demonstration forest and is open to the public for hunting, hiking and other traditional uses.

The forest has two trailheads: one in Ellsworth and one in Surry.

Colorful lichen stands out beside a road in Meadowbrook Forest in Ellsworth.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Juno and I started our visit at the Ellsworth trailhead, which is off Bucksport Road, approximately 2.7 miles west of where the road begins in downtown Ellsworth. From there, we walked into the forest on a wide, soggy logging road and turned right at the first intersection to hike the popular five-mile loop counter clockwise.

A few vehicles were parked at the trailhead, so we weren’t surprised to run into two other human-dog duos during our long walk. Dogs are permitted off leash in the forest, but I kept Juno on leash — an especially long leash — because she tends to pursue wildlife tracks. I didn’t want to lose her in 2,000-plus acres of wetlands and woods.

It wasn’t long before something else reinforced my decision to keep Juno on leash. Young birch trees that lined the road had been stripped of much of their bark, and the uniform teeth marks in the wood betrayed the culprit: a porcupine. Well, several porcupines, judging by the amount of denuded branches. I expected to spot a spiky, waddling creature around every bend in the road, but they somehow eluded us.

The property serves as a “vital link in a documented north-south wildlife corridor on the [Blue Hill] peninsula,” according to the Blue Hill Heritage Trust. So I kept a lookout for tracks and other wildlife signs, including scat.

Coyote scat was plentiful along the roads. It looks like dog poop but contains the remains of a wild carnivore diet: hair and bones. Using a stick, I sifted through one old, dried up pile of coyote scat to find several bone shards. Juno seemed excited to see that she’s not the only one who likes to inspect poop.

A few bridges cross brooks in Meadowbrook Forest, which straddles Surry and Ellsworth.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I also came across a large pile of dark scat that puzzled me. At first glance, I would have said it was bear scat. But it looked fresh, and bears are denned up this time of year. My second guess was moose, based on the quantity. However, the moose poop I’ve seen in the past has been uniform balls. This was more of a mass, though it looked like there were balls within the mass. (You didn’t expect to be reading descriptions of poop today, did you?)

I posted a few photos of the scat on social media. (People post crap on there all the time, so I didn’t think anyone would be shocked.) Feedback was split between bear and moose, with one horse thrown in the mix. I’m inclined to think it was a moose with an upset stomach over a sleep-walking bear.

The teeth marks of a porcupine are seen on the branches of a birch tree in Meadowbrook Forest in Ellsworth. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I kept an eye out for moose tracks in the snow, but I only noticed white-tailed deer tracks (which are similar, but much smaller). Juno enjoyed the smell of those so much that she pounced on them from time to time.

Due to recent thaws and rain, the gravel roads were bare and muddy in some areas, while other sections were covered with a thin layer of snow and ice. Snow persisted throughout the forest, where it was more sheltered from the sun. But along the edges of the road, it had melted away from clusters of colorful mosses and lichens. If you take a trip there, keep an eye out for bright red British soldier lichen and peachy pink lichen, both of which are plentiful right along the edges of the roads.

At each road intersection, signs marked the loop, which seems like the most popular route to take. “You are here” trail maps are placed at the intersections as well. This made the property very easy to navigate.

Some of the most scenic spots of the walk were where bridges crossed brooks. In March, the brooks were frozen in some places, with icicles and other interesting ice formations hovering over the gurgling water.

I also enjoyed spots where the roads traveled along the edges of wetlands. Not far from the Ellsworth trailhead, one wetland featured a large beaver lodge. I imagine it’d be a good spot to view wildlife in warmer months.

A large pile of scat is found beside a woods road on March 11, 2022, in Meadowbrook Forest in Surry. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Both Juno and I had slowed down a bit by the end of our walk, and I was zoning out rather than keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife. Of course, that’s when we flushed a ruffed grouse.

The bird’s wings thundered as it took off from its perch. I jumped. Juno seemed surprised as well. Her body tensed as she searched for the source of the noise with wide, blue eyes. Dense evergreen branches blocked the bird from view, but I knew the sound well from flushing plenty of grouse in the past. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

After my first experience at the forest, I’m eager to return in the spring, summer and fall. It’s not too far from my home, and I look forward to seeing how it changes with the seasons. It seems like a great spot for wildlife photography, and I think it’d be perfect for some easy mountain biking.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...