The 360 degree panorama atop Cranberry Peak offer a birds-eye view of manmade Flagstaff Lake. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Sindo

Have you ever gone for a hike or even a short walk around your neighborhood and returned from your outing only to realize how much you needed that time and space outdoors? This is where I found myself last week.

One of the reasons Mainers love the state is the access it provides them to the great outdoors. As I get older, and especially since the pandemic, I see how influential having access to these outdoor areas is.

March came in like a lion with a chain of busy days that went by in the blink of an eye. Coupled with the events happening in Ukraine, I felt heavy, sad and unmotivated. I didn’t get outside much because I put priority on getting varying tasks and work done. Then along came a string of beautifully sunny and warm days and that’s it, I told myself, it’s time to go for a hike.

I settled on Cranberry Peak, which is part of the Bigelow Range located in western Maine. My dog and I did the hike on a January thaw day a handful of winters back, but I had forgotten most details about it.

Bangor Daily News outdoors contributor Sarah Sindo stands atop Cranberry Peak during a recent hike. (Courtesy of Sarah Sindo).

A local hiking book reminded me it was an out-and-back trail that totaled about 6 miles and the elevation gain was around 2,000 feet. I knew such a hike would take me half a day, so a friend and I called it a short work day and set off on the adventure after lunch one day last week.

Upon stepping out of my car, I stretched my Kahtoola microspikes over my hiking boots, felt the sun warm my face, and immediately felt like this was the best decision I made in weeks. The sunshine was invigorating and it felt good to have a pack on my back and move my body.

The hiking was fairly easy for the first mile or so, and then we crossed paths with a lone hiker making her way down the trail.

“You’re at the start of the most steep section of the trail. There’s some ice hidden under the snow on the summit, but it wasn’t bad,” she shared with us.

We got past the arduous uphill and came out onto the ledges section of the trail. About three-quarters to a mile later, we had reached the sought-after summit sign.

Cranberry Peak stands 3,213 feet and offers unobstructed, 360-degree views of Sugarloaf Mountain, the Bigelow Range ridgeline and manmade Flagstaff Lake.

Due to a descending sun and cooling temperatures, we didn’t stay long on the summit. I snapped some photos, consumed a granola bar and started the journey of retracing our steps back down the trail.

View from summit of Cranberry Peak. Far left is Bigelow Range ridgeline, and far right is Sugarloaf Mountain. (Courtesy of Sarah Sindo)

My backpack wasn’t particularly heavy, but on the hike back down to the trailhead, I started to think about the fact that I lug my full-frame Nikon camera on every hike. I make room for the beast of a camera, no matter what. I asked myself why, and pondered for a bit.

The thought I had while hiking down from Cranberry Peak last week was this: my photography acts as a form of preservation of these areas for me.

Preservation can take many shapes and forms. Gardeners preserve their crops by canning green beans and tomatoes. Writers preserve their thoughts via journaling. A bride may preserve her wedding day flowers by drying them.

Artifacts and papers from decades and centuries ago are preserved in museums in glass cases. People advocate as a way of preserving something that is important to them. Land is preserved.

The day after our Cranberry Peak hike, a new bill was signed into law that will expand Maine’s Ecological Reserve System. Are you familiar with this system? It was put into place in 2000 to conserve the state’s different habitats and its plentiful plant and animal life and grant access to low-impact recreation opportunities.

The start of the Bigelow Range Trail to access Cranberry Peak is located on Currie Street in the town of Stratton. (Courtesy of Sarah Sindo)

Additionally, the ecological reserves now offer a way to back long-term research and education, alleviate climate change and preserve biodiversity.

The Bigelow Range is part of the Bigelow Preserve Public Land, which encompasses 36,000 acres of public land. Within this parcel, more than 10,000 acres are part of the state’s Ecological Reserve System.

I knew the land I was hiking on last week had this designation. And I think that was why I made the connection between preservation and my photography. It’s a way for these special places to remain near to me even when I can’t physically be there.

But there was something else. After my immediate needs of food and rest were met, a delayed satisfaction came in the form of appreciation for the access to such land and forests. It’s so easy to take land access, for which so many people recreate on, for granted. I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for our protected areas.

If you’d like to learn about any of the state’s ecological reserves, head to the Maine Natural Areas Program website.

Sarah Sindo was locally grown in Millinocket. Her love and appreciation for the outdoors took off after college when she hiked numerous mountains with her brother, Nick, including her first ascent of Katahdin....