Difficulty: Easy. The trails, with a total length of just over a mile, are relatively smooth and and even. Watch the ground for exposed roots in the forest, as well as a few wooden footbridges.
How to get there: From Route 201 in Vassalboro, turn east onto Webber Pond Road and drive about 2.7 miles to the KLT sign and parking lot, which will be on your right, just north of the public boat launch on Dam Road and just south of Natanis Golf Course (which is located at 735 Webber Pond Road).
The property has two trails. The Alewife Amble Loop, which is blazed with white paint, starts at the parking area, while the Virginia Rail Trail is on the other side of Webber Pond Road.
Information: The 330-acre Vassalboro Wildlife Habitat, owned and maintained by the Kennebec Land Trust, features two trails: the 1-mile Alewife Amble Loop, which travels to shoreline of Webber Pond, and the shorter Virginia Rail Trail, which leads to a cattail marsh where wood ducks and other birds are frequently seen.
The conservation area is fairly new. Most of the land was donated to KLT between 2004 and 2007 in four parcels.
“The property name, Vassalboro Wildlife Habitat, reflects the donor’s love for nature and her desire to protect the habitats of Maine’s diverse wildlife species — from insects and amphibians to birds and mammals,” according to a KLT pamphlet on the property, available at a kiosk at the parking area.
A fifth parcel, 44 acres, was purchased by KLT in 2010.
The land was once part of several 19th and 20th century farms, which shipped their produce and dairy products to markets on two rail lines and on the Kennebec River, according to KLT.
The Alewife Ambler Loop is about 1 mile long and starts at the kiosk and registration box at the edge of the parking area. This trail travels through the woods under old pines and over a few bog bridges. After an educational sign about the food chain, the path crosses a small bridge and reaches a historic trolley line, which is now just a wide, grassy path by power lines. There, the trail splits.
You can turn either way to walk the loop, which is really the shape of an “8” because a trail cuts through the center of it.
If you turn right and follow the wide grassy path, you’ll soon see where the trail re-enters the forest on your left. Once back in the forest, you’ll notice the trail splits once more. You can either turn right and continue on the loop to its south end, or you can march straight ahead to reach Webber Pond on the trail that cuts through the loop.
The conserved property includes 2,200 feet of shoreline along Webber Pond, which is covers about 1,200 acres according to surveys by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Along the Loop Trail, keep an eye out for birds, including American redstarts, white-throated sparrows, catbirds, veeries, hermit thrushes, and a variety of warblers — chestnut-sided, yellow, black, white and pine warblers — according to KLT.
If you enjoy wildlife, you should take the time to cross the road and walk down the short trail that is labeled “Virginia Rail Trail” in the 2014 KLT trail guide and “Wood Duck Box Trail” in the KLT pamphlet provided at the trailhead. Whatever the name, this trail leads to an observation platform at the edge of a cattail marsh, where wood duck boxes have been erected. These boxes are used by wood ducks, hooded mergansers, great crested flycatchers, common goldeneyes, tree swallows, barred owls and saw whet owls.
Also in the marsh and surrounding woods, you may see or hear the calls of red-winged blackbirds, osprey, bald eagles, sora, swamp sparrows and song sparrows, according to KLT. And keep an eye out for turtles and frogs.
The property is open to the public year round, dawn to dusk. In addition to hiking, cross-country skiing and fishing is permitted on the property. Dogs are permitted on the trails but should be under voice command or on a leash. Visitors are asked to pick up after themselves and any pets.
Hunting is by permission only and is never allowed on the parcel containing the loop trail. For information, call KLT at 337-2848 or visit tklt.org.
Personal note: Brown oak leaves mixed with long orange pine needles covered the forest floor on Oct. 30, when I visited the Vassalboro Wildlife Habitat with my beau Derek and our dog, Oreo. Referring to KLT’s new trail guide, we explored both trails on the conserved land on that cool, sunny day.
The surface of Webber Pond was nearly as smooth as glass, reflecting the blue sky and puffy white clouds overhead. Despite the chilly weather, Oreo waded up to his chest. I imagine he enjoyed the squishy clay of the bottom. Along the shore, I followed the perfect prints left by a white-tailed deer that had recently walked to the edge of the pond, perhaps for a drink.
At the south end of the loop, we found a little sitting area near the shore — two chairs roughly hewn from stumps, complete with footstools (which could also be used as chairs or tables for a picnic). It was the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the view, sheltered by a towering oak tree.
After our hike, we had just gotten back in my Subaru when Derek exclaimed, “A tick!” and pinched the dangerous pest off his thigh, where it had been crawling up his shorts. At this, we all hopped out of the car, Oreo included, and checked each other for ticks. More afraid of ticks than spiders, I screamed when Derek plucked an imaginary tick out of my hair. Not the time to be joking. We found two ticks on Oreo, crawling in the short white fur on his legs, yet to attach to his skin.
Ticks can carry my myriad of scary diseases, including Lyme disease, which is becoming more and more common in Maine. If gone untreated by antibiotics, Lyme disease can cause heart problems, arthritis and neurological problems. In most cases, a tick must be attached to a person (or dog’s) skin for 36-48 hours before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, but there are cases where just a tick bite has transmitted the disease.
My skin crawled the whole ride home. The first thing we did was strip our clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Then, worried Oreo might have more ticks hidden in his fur, we hauled him into the tub and washed him down with anti-flea and tick shampoo. Then we took showers, just for good measure. Sometimes ticks hide in your hair, and I have a lot of hair. They also like nooks and crannies — belly buttons, behind ears, and well, other places. It’s important to check for ticks thoroughly after any hike, but this scare really drove the lesson home.