Difficulty: Easy. The two loop trails on the conserved property are smooth and wide. In many places, the trail is surfaced with gravel or wood chips. Together, the two trails makes up about 3 miles of walking.
How to get there: From the intersections of Route 4 and Route 16 in downtown Rangeley, drive north (though technically west) on Route 4 for 2.3 miles and turn left onto Mingo Loop Road. Drive about 0.4 miles and turn left onto Alpine Way. Immediately on the left is the maintenance shack for Mingo Springs Golf Course. Park on the grass to the left of the building, by a white sign that reads “trail parking.”
Information: Threading through a beautiful, varied forest and across lupine fields, the Mingo Springs Trail and Bird Walk is free for the public to enjoy year round. The easy, 3-mile trail forms two loops around the front and back nine of Mingo Springs Golf Course and includes wooden signs identifying native flora of the landscape.
The trail and the golf course are within the boundaries of a state wildlife sanctuary called the Rangeley Game Sanctuary, where hunting and trapping are not permitted.
Funded by the Chodosh family, the trail was constructed by the golf course grounds crew under the leadership of John Bicknell, who works at the golf course and has created many of the gardens on the property. Bicknell consulted with local foresters and naturalists to label plant species along the trail, especially trees and ferns.
In addition, wooden benches have been constructed at a few spots along the trail for visitors to rest and watch for the many different species of birds that live in the forest and fields, including a variety of warblers, vireos, woodpeckers and owls, according to a description of the trail on the golf course website.
In May 2016, Mingo Springs Golf Club achieved designation by Audubon International as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.” Today it is one of four golf courses in Maine and 825 in the world to hold the title. The designation is achieved when a golf course meets specific standards of environmental management, which includes plans for water conservation, chemical use reduction, wildlife and habitat management and outreach and education.
Trail maps, restrooms, food and beverages are available at the nearby Mingo Springs Golf Course Pro Shop from mid-May through mid-October. For the rest of the year, trail maps are available at the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
The trail is for foot traffic only (including snowshoes in the winter). Bikes are not permitted. Dogs are permitted on the trail if they are kept on leash at all times and owners clean up after them.
Starting at the parking area, the trailhead kiosk is across Mingo Loop Road and includes brochures and a trail map. From the kiosk, you can enter the woods to start the red-blazed loop, or you can turn right and walk along the road for a short distance to start the blue-blazed loop, which passes right by the parking area.
The red-blazed loop is about 2 miles long and circles around the back nine holes of the golf course, through a hardwood forest and past a vernal pool, which is a spring haven for a variety of amphibians. The trail then follows Mingo Loop Road for a short stretch before heading back into the woods to pass through a hardwood stand adjacent to a cedar swamp. The trail then crosses through old pastures now infiltrated by spruce and fir, and then through a mature stand of evergreens. The trail then comes out on Mingo Loop Road, which can be followed back to the parking area. Or you can choose to cross the road to hike the blue-blazed loop.
The blue-blazed trail is about 1 mile long and travels around the front nine section of the golf course. This loop is especially popular during lupine season in June because it travels through two fields of lupines as a wide, mowed path. This loop trail also passes through an evergreen forest and over a small hill. Be sure to follow the blue blazes and blue wooden arrows, as it is easy to get off trail, especially where the trail passes over the groomed lawn and by the golf clubhouse.
For information about the trail, call Mingo Springs Golf Course at 864-5021 or visit www.mingosprings.com.
Personal note: It was a dreary morning in June when I first visited Mingo Springs Trail and Bird Walk with my husband Derek and our dog, Oreo. I was there to see the lupines, having heard about the golf course’s beautiful lupine fields on a previous visit to the Rangeley Lakes Region.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the trail offered much more than just a walk through lupine fields. The smooth, wide trail traveled through some stunning woodland landscapes (forestscapes?), abundant with woodland flowers, and it was an excellent place to learn more about Maine plants.
For instance, I knew about the cinnamon fern, which often grows near wetlands and is easy to identify with its cinnamon-colored stalk. And I also knew about ostrich ferns, which Mainers enjoy picking in the spring and tossing in a frying pan with butter. But on the trail, I learned that there is a great variety of ferns that grow in Maine. There’s also the lady fern and oak fern, bracken fern and polypody fern, interrupted fern and narrow beech fern. All of these species were labeled on nice wooden signs posted along the trail.
There were also signs pointing out the wide variety of trees growing in the forest, including beaked hazelnut, northern white cedar, Scotch pine, white spruce, striped maple, balsam fir and white birch.
It being a bird walk, you’re probably wondering what sort of feathered friends we encountered along the way, and we did manage to spy a few.
In the woods, drilling in on tree trunks, was a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a woodpecker that drills rows of small holes in trees so it can lick up the sap that leaks out. This bird has a red cap and throat, with the rest of its body being a pattern of black and white, and as it’s name implies, it has a yellow-tinged belly.
Also, while I stopped to photograph the tiny, white, bell-shaped blossoms of a woodland flower called lily-of-the-valley, Derek witnessed two blackburnian warblers get into a bit of an aerial tussle, which caused them both to nearly land on top of me as they fell from the sky and onto the mossy forest floor. After the event, they flew up into the trees, seemingly unharmed, and I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to photograph these flashy birds as they flew from branch to branch, their yellow-orange feathers standing out against the greens and browns of the mossy, evergreen forest.
And what we didn’t see, we heard. The forest was alive with birdsong that day, including one of my favorites — the song of the hermit thrush.
By the time we reached the lupine fields, we were nearing the end of our hike, and it started rain. Derek raced through the fields with Oreo and ducked back into the cover of the forest, while I lingered in the lupines, trying to keep the raindrops of my camera as I photographed the blue, purple, pink and white flowers from every angle. The drops of rain on the lupines’ bulbous petals and fanned out leaves only made the photographs more beautiful in my opinion, adding vibrance to the colors.