Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The Salt Marsh Trail is 0.8 mile long and dead-ends at a marsh, making for an out-and-back hike of 1.6 miles. The trail is narrow and travels over a number of forested hills. The surface is fairly smooth, with a few exposed tree roots here and there.
Information: The Salt Marsh Trail winds through a beautiful mossy forest on the coast of Gouldsboro to reach two wooden platforms overlooking a tidal salt marsh. Along the way, the trail crosses several small brooks on wooden footbridges and climbs over several hills. It’s a nice, quiet place to spot wildlife, as well as a variety of mushrooms and lichens.
The trail is located on the Gouldsboro Bay Division of the Coastal Maine Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which contains more than 61 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,200 acres. Alone, the Gouldsboro division protects 607 acres of mature conifer forest and northern mixed hardwood forest, as well as a tidal salt marsh and mudflat.
A large kiosk at the trailhead parking lot for the Gouldsboro Bay Division features a trail map, visitor guidelines and some information about the property. It states that the land was once the site of the Gouldsboro town center, and the surrounding area was dotted with farms. However, as you walk the Salt Marsh Trail, you would never guess its history. Nature has truly taken back over the landscape.
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The property sits adjacent to the 438-acre Frances B. Wood Preserve, which is owned and maintained by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy and features a 1.5-mile hiking trail. The two conserved properties share a parking lot. Just beyond the kiosk, the hiking trail leading into Frances B. Wood will be on your left; and the Salt Marsh Trail leading into the Gouldsboro Bay Division of the Coastal Maine Islands National Wildlife Refuge will be on your right.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is a collection of federal lands and waters managed specifically for wildlife. Units of the system are scattered throughout the country, making up more than 550 refuges protecting more than 150 million acres.
The Gouldsboro Bay Division is open to the public from sunrise to sunset for free. Camping, fireworks, fires, bicycles, horses, ATVs and snowmobiles are not permitted. Pets are permitted but must be kept on leash at all times. Do not remove or introduce any plants or animals, and remain mindful of the property boundaries so you don’t cross over onto private land.
For more information, visit fws.gov/refuge/maine_coastal_islands or call the refuge office at 207-546-2124.
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Personal note: I was only a few steps into my hike on May 6, when a tiny critter skittered across the trail. At first, I assumed it was a mouse, and I didn’t expect to see it again. But I had only walked a few more feet when I noticed a number of tiny gray animals bounding over hillocks of moss to my left. “They’re everywhere,” I whispered. Kneeling on the trail, I managed to capture a few photos and a video of the speedy animals, which I later identified to be shrews. Their long snouts, tiny feet, trailing tails and small size gave them away — though I couldn’t tell you the exact species of shrew. Nevertheless, the sighting was a first for me. It was a joy to watch them dash about.
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From that point on, I continually searched for movement over the thick bed of moss that covered the forest floor. And while I didn’t spot any more shrews during the hike, I did spy several red squirrels and songbirds. One bird flew right past my head, so close that I could feel the wind created by its wings.
As I walked, I felt a ball of stress inside me melt away. To be honest, I had started my hike in a bad mood. My morning at home had been frustrating for a number of small reasons that were only amplified by the global COVID-19 pandemic. And leaving home now fills me with anxiety that’s tough to shake. But the quiet forest in Gouldsboro quickly worked its magic. Surrounded by plush moss, birdsong and the fresh scent of tree sap, I started to feel like myself again.
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That day, I’d left the house with several trail options, just in case a trailhead parking area was full (as is the case in many places these days). So you can imagine how delighted I was to find the trailhead parking area for my first choice — Salt Marsh Trail — with only one vehicle in it. About half-way through my hike, I came across the other visitor, hiking from the opposite direction, so I stepped well off trail and let him pass, maintaining at least 10 feet of distance. He paused to exchange greetings, so I told him about the shrews. He hadn’t noticed them. I hope he did on the way back.
I’d embarked on the hike expecting to spot wading birds or waterfowl in the salt marsh, but when I arrived at the observation platforms, I saw nothing but dead grass and mud, no matter how hard I looked. It was a good lesson not to count on anything specific when you go hiking, but to enjoy the journey — and stop for shrews.
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How to get there: From the Sullivan side of the Hancock-Sullivan bridge, drive 12 miles on Route 1, then turn right onto Chicken Mill Road in Gouldsboro. Drive 0.4 mile, then turn right onto Fletcher Wood Road. Drive 0.2 mile, then continue straight onto a gravel road when the paved road takes a right turn. Drive about 0.1 mile to the parking lot.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/1minhikegirl, Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.