Juno wades through the shallows at Shore Acres Preserve on April 10, in Deer Isle. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki) Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Every once in a while, I take my dog, Juno, on a date. These outings are designed specifically for her. But, let’s be honest, I get a whole lot of joy out of our mini excursions, too.

Our most recent doggy date destination was Deer Isle, a town that encompasses a cluster of islands. Accessible by bridge, Deer Isle is home to a number of dog-friendly preserves, parks and beaches.

Our first stop of the day was impromptu. I’d just driven across the impressive Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge when I spotted a blue sign for Bridge End Park on my right. Interested to see the suspension bridge from a new angle, I turned into the parking lot and walked along the water’s edge with Juno on leash.

To my surprise, a spit of land led right underneath the bridge, where we wandered among barnacle-encrusted piers to a rock ledge covered with bright yellow lichen. It was a little strange hearing the rumble of vehicles passing overhead.

Constructed in the late 1930s, the bridge measures more than 2,500 feet long, with an 85-foot clearance about the water. It’s pretty magnificent.

From there, we headed to Shore Acres Preserve, which is owned and managed by the Island Heritage Trust. Founded in 1987, the land trust has since acquired conservation easements on more than 770 acres, protecting 13 miles of shoreline in Deer Isle and the neighboring island town, Stonington.

When researching places to go for our doggy date, I looked at the Island Heritage Trust’s website, islandheritagetrust.org, which includes a helpful section called “Where can I bring my dog?” Shore Acres Preserve was listed as a place where dogs can be off leash, if under strict voice control, from Oct. 1 to April 30, and on leash from May 1 to Sept. 30.

Juno, who struggles to listen to voice commands, has to be on leash at all times anyway.

I’d been to Shore Acres Preserve before, so I knew that it was an especially beautiful place with a grassy, rocky shoreline and a variety of wildlife habitats. It features about 2.5 miles of intersecting trails, including a loop that’s 1.5 miles long and travels along the shore for a good stretch.

Juno wades through the shallows at Shore Acres Preserve on April 10, in Deer Isle. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki) Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

We started our walk on the Goldthread Trail, which is named after a dainty spring wildflower that grows there in abundance. But in early April, it was a bit early for goldthread blossoms. So I settled for skunk cabbage.

In a soggy section of forest, where the trail turned into a series of narrow bog bridges, skunk cabbages were popping up all over the place. In Maine, skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It’ll push right through the snow.

And as its name implies, it smells a bit ripe. But the scent serves to attract pollinators, something I saw firsthand as bees buzzed around the plant’s maroon, hood-like leaves on April 10. The early bee gets the skunk cabbage?

Just a bit farther down the trail, I noticed a number of beautiful red-belted polypores, which are tree mushrooms that display bands of bright orange. They’re super common throughout Maine, but always a delight to see.

A red-belted polypore grows on a dead tree near the Goldthread Trail on April 10, at Shore Acres Preserve in Deer Isle. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki) Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

This was Juno’s least favorite part of the date. Busy with photographing mushrooms and plants, I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to her. It didn’t take long for her to make her impatience known with an incredibly high-pitched whine, akin to the shriek of an ill-designed tea kettle.

Soon enough, we were at the shore. As I navigated over humps of coarse pink granite, Juno waded through the shallows to nose at seaweed and waterlogged sticks. The water was a stunning blue-green, its surface marred by just a few ripples stirred up by the breeze.

At one point, Juno became spooked by something in the water. Muscles tense, she stood motionless as a floating object drew closer and closer. Eventually it grew near enough that I could see what it was: a mussel shell. Juno jumped back and ran. Then, for whatever reason, she gathered the courage to return to the floating shell, scoop it into her mouth, carry it to shore and spit it onto a pile of seaweed. Well done!

We followed the Shore Trail as it threaded through a shaded forest near the water’s edge. Along the way, several side trails led to views of the water. We took one out to a rock ledge, where I photographed a pair of bufflehead ducks. Then we sat in the sun and shared a chicken sandwich.

The last leg of our hike was on the Meadow Trail which led, unsurprisingly, through an old meadow. The Green Oak Trail and Stone Wall Trail branched off to our right, but we’ll save those for another day. I’m sure Juno wouldn’t mind going on another date to Deer Isle.

The water is calm off along the shore of Shore Acres Preserve on April 10, in Deer Isle. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki) 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...