Sunlight illuminates the bright colors of sundew plants on June 21 at the Corea Heath division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Gouldsboro.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Summer solstice was a breezy day of bright sunshine and rich, blue skies. To celebrate the longest day of the year, I decided to pick an outdoor destination where I could slow down and admire nature.

Corea Heath had been on my “places to visit” list for years. Located in the eastern Maine town of Gouldsboro, the coastal plateau bog can be explored on two conserved properties that are right down the road from each other.

A narrow wooden boardwalk leads through a wetland area at North Heath Preserve in Gouldsboro. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I first visited the Corea Heath Preserve, which is owned and managed by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. Also known as North Corea Heath, the property covers 600 acres and features an easy 1.25-mile loop trail.

The small gravel parking lot to the preserve was empty when I arrived that morning. With a backpack filled with camera gear, I entered a forest filled with shrubbery, wildflowers and ferns.

My dog, Juno, was at doggy daycare for the day. This allowed me the luxury of walking as slowly as I wished, without her tugging impatiently on her leash. It also made it easier for me to pause and observe birds and bugs. With a little patience, I managed to photograph a hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, black-capped chickadee and American redstart. Many more birds eluded my camera, but I enjoyed their songs.

An easy walking trail dead-ends at an observation platform in a peatland area at the Corea Heath Preserve in Gouldsboro.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

One thing I loved about the preserve was the changing landscape. A shrubby area transitioned into a more open deciduous forest. Then I found myself in a stand of jack pines, with the ground covered in reindeer moss.

The far end of the loop took me along the edge of wetlands and a beaver pond. That part of the trail is a narrow, wooden boardwalk that rises well out of the water, so hikers can keep their feet dry.

There I watched dragonflies and damselflies of many shapes, sizes, colors and patterns. One particularly zippy dragonfly had brilliant green eyes. Careful not to step off the boardwalk, I watched it for several minutes, hoping it would perch on a plant so I could snap a photo. I was about to give up when it flew to a cluster of pink sheep laurel flowers, clung to a blossom and stuck its face inside.

Gouldsboro, Maine — 06/21/22 — Red and yellow pitcher plant flowers rise above the peat on June 21 at the Corea Heath division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Gouldsboro. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki)

I was taken aback. I always thought dragonflies ate insects, not nectar. Later, back at home, I did a little research and read some conflicting statements about the diet of a dragonfly. However, the vast majority of sources (and the more credible ones) maintain that dragonflies do not eat nectar. Instead, when you see them approach a flower, you’re witnessing a clever hunting tactic. They’re looking for pollinating insects to eat.

In addition to being a great place to observe wildlife, the preserve is home to rare plants and unusual plant communities, according to information on the trailhead kiosk. While there, I identified the white blossoms of wild raisins and leatherleaf. Bunchberries and twinflowers were also in bloom. I could have spent all day there trying to identify different plants, but I had a second trail to visit.

Nearby, just about a half-mile east on Corea Road, I found the Corea Heath division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The property covers a little more than 430 acres and features an easy 0.2-mile trail that dead-ends at an observation platform at the edge of open peatland.

Gouldsboro, Maine — 06/21/22 — A dragonfly clings to sheep laurel blossoms on June 21 at Corea Heath Preserve in Gouldsboro. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki)

The U.S. Navy occupied the site from the 1950s until its antenna arrays were no longer needed. The property became a part of the refuge system in 2005, and staff restored the bog by removing hundreds of posts that once supported equipment.

The large, paved parking lot was empty when I arrived. As I walked past a closed building to the gate that marked the trailhead, I noticed tiny, ripe wild strawberries dotting the ground among yellow cinquefoil flowers. Daisies and hawkweed danced in the cool breeze.

The trail was straight and level. It’s meant to be wheelchair accessible, but only a narrow strip of it is surfaced with crushed rock. So, if you use a wheelchair, you’ll need to wheel over grass and other encroaching plants.

Striking out into open peatland, the trail was especially scenic. Along the way, I passed bunches of swaying cattails and stands of tamarack trees, covered with soft, green needles. The deep red flowers of pitcher plants stood above the peat on tall, thin stems.

The observation platform at the end featured a bench and interpretive display about bogs. With that information, I was able to identify the one bright magenta flower I’d spied during my walk as a dragon’s mouth orchid. That was a first for me.

A dragonfly perches on a bare branch on June 21 at Corea Heath Preserve in Gouldsboro.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The short trail is fenced in so people don’t step off solid ground and sink into the peat or damage plants. At the end of the trail, at the edge of the fence, I was able to get an up-close look at pitcher plants and sundew. Both plants are insectivorous, meaning they’re able to capture and digest insects.

Unlike the largely forested Frenchman Bay Conservancy trail, the refuge trail was entirely open to the sun. So while both properties explore parts of Corea Heath, they’re entirely different experiences. I highly suggest visiting both if you ever find yourself in that beautiful area of Maine.

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...