Juno waits to hike to the summit of Mount Tuck on Feb. 4, in Stockton Springs. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The crackle of snapping branches. The crunch of hooves breaking through icy snow. The dark blur of movement between trees. The yank of my dog at the end of her leash.

It all happened so fast. And within the span of a second, my brain combined all of these observations to arrive at one conclusion: moose.

Before I had the chance to lift my camera the animal was gone. All I’d really seen was a large brown butt. But nothing has a butt quite like a moose.

Columnist Aislinn Sarnacki places her boot beside tracks in the snow on Feb. 5, at the new Mount Tuck Preserve in Stockton Springs. She believes they were made by a young moose. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Still, I couldn’t quite believe it. I wasn’t in what I’d consider moose country.

On that cloudy day in early February, I was visiting the new Mount Tuck Preserve in Stockton Springs. I’d heard about the property through the grapevine, and I was excited to check it out.

Coastal Mountains Land Trust started conserving land on Mount Tuck in 2019, with a 99-acre parcel that includes its summit. Since then, the preserve has grown to 244 acres, and there are plans to add another 25-acre parcel this spring.

Last November, the land trust officially opened a 1.8-mile trail on the preserve. It begins at a small parking area on Meadow Road, where there’s a kiosk displaying a trail map and the visitor rules. From there, the trail travels along a gravel road for about 0.7 miles before turning onto a traditional hiking trail.

Marked with blue blazes, the hiking trail leads through a mixed forest that includes white pine, balsam fir, spruce, beech, yellow birch and paper birch trees. It travels gradually up the small mountain, which tops off at 565 feet above sea level.

Though the summit is wooded, you’ll know when you reach it because the land trust has erected a wooden sign at the high point. It’s 0.78 miles from where the trail turns off the road.

From there, the trail continues another 0.36 miles to an overlook on an open granite ledge. Along the way, it hops back onto a woods road, where you can find a variety of lichens.

A trail leads to a viewpoint near the summit of Mount Tuck Preserve in Stockton Springs. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The overlook offers a partial view of the surrounding area, including the Penobscot River and the islands of Penobscot Bay. And in the distance rises the distinctive shape of Blue Hill Mountain.

It’s the perfect winter hike and — when the snow is deep enough — snowshoe. While walking the trail with my dog, Juno, I noticed both boot prints and the beautiful, tear-shaped tracks of traditional wooden snowshoes.

Curious about why the Coastal Mountains Land Trust selected Mount Tuck as a conservation project, I called the land trust and spoke with Jack Shaida, its stewardship and land protection manager.

“First, there was just the opportunity,” he explained. “The landowner who owned the summit needed to sell it and was interested in conservation, and the timing was right.”

Second, the new preserve connects land that’s already conserved. It’s sandwiched between the 495-acre HRS Meadow Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the 563-acre Sandy Point Game Management Area. In this way, it serves as a wildlife corridor that bridges undeveloped habitat.

And third, the land trust was encouraged by local residents who were enthusiastic about the development of preserve trails. About 50 people showed up to the trail opening in November.

The trail at Mount Tuck Preserve in Stockton Springs is clearly marked with blue blazes and signs. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

“We usually get about a dozen people at trail openings,” Shaida said. “It was wild. It was nuts. Forty people walked to the top with us.”

So, what about the moose?

“I’ve seen pictures of moose in the nearby meadow,” Shaida said. “[Mount Tuck Preserve] has the most evidence of moose — moose tracks and moose scat — of any of our properties. It’s moosey.”

At the time, as I stood there in the snowy woods with my dog, I didn’t know that. In fact, I was worried that I’d just imagined the moose. It hadn’t been particularly large. Maybe it had been a deer? No. I would have seen a fluffy white tail.

A dog? No. Too big. Sasquatch?

Well, there was only one way to be sure. I stepped off trail to see if I could find any tracks. And sure enough, there they were — fresh moose tracks. Or at least, that’s what I think.

Deer and moose tracks are similar, but moose tracks are larger. In this case, I think the moose was fairly small. Still, the tracks were larger than any of the deer tracks I’d seen that day. And after talking to Shaida, my money’s on it being a moose.

For more information about the new Mount Tuck Preserve, visit coastalmountains.org.

A sign located near the entrance of Mount Tuck Preserves tasks visitors with walking and enjoying the property on Feb. 5, in Stockton Springs. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

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...