Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The hike, out and back, is about 1.5 miles. The trail is narrow but well cleared, marked and maintained. It travels over a fairly smooth forest floor with a few exposed tree roots and rocks here and there. The first part of the hike is flat, while the second part (the loop) travels over a small hill.
Information: Frances B. Wood Preserve covers 438 acres in Gouldsboro, and is owned and maintained by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. On the property is a hiking trail that travels through a mossy forest for 0.4 mile, then splits into a 0.75 mile loop at the edge of a bog. This loop travels over a small, forested hill, where you’ll find humps of exposed granite and beds of lichen.
The preserve neighbors another conserved property: the Gouldsboro Bay Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 607 acres and features a 0.8-mile hiking trail. The two properties share a parking lot.
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Located near the coast, Frances B. Wood Preserve protects the upland area of a watershed that contains significant tidal estuaries and mudflats, according to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy website. The preserve contains small streams and bogs that support a variety of wildlife species, including deer, beavers and bobcats. The property is also home to a variety of plants, including wildflowers such as lady’s slippers, rhodora and irises.
The forest and wetlands on the property make for excellent habitat for warblers, which is a group of small songbirds. Visitors using eBird — an online tool and mobile app used to track bird species — have recently recorded numerous warblers on the preserve as proof. The list includes palm warbler, black-and-white warbler, Blackburnian warbler, black-throated blue warbler, chestnut-sided warbler and many others.
A wide range of other bird species have also been recorded on the property, including Canada goose, blue-headed vireo, rose-breasted grosbeak, Cooper’s hawk, osprey, purple finch, alder flycatcher, bald eagle and raven — just to name a few.
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To reach the trail from the parking area, walk past the large kiosk to find an old road. The trailhead for the preserve will be on your left, marked with a blue sign. Directly across the road is the trailhead for the Gouldsboro Bay Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Blue blazes (paint on trees) mark the preserve’s trail, as well as a few rock piles called cairns. Beware that beavers are very active in the area, so the route may change slightly from time to time. Also, if you see two painted blazes on one tree, it signifies that the trail takes a sharp turn. Keep an eye out for that. Early on in the hike, the trail comes to an old road and turns left, and after a few steps, it turns left once more, leaving the road behind.
The trail is open from sunrise to sunset. Access is free. There are no restrooms available. Dogs are permitted if under voice or leash control at all times. In the neighboring refuge, dogs must be on leash.
For more information, visit frenchmanbay.org or call 207-422-2328.
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Personal note: On an overcast morning in early June, I arrived at an empty parking lot for Frances B. Wood Preserve. Mosquitoes buzzed around my ears, taunting me as I prepared for my nature walk, but I would not be deterred. It was cool enough that day to wear long sleeves and pants, which shielded much of my skin from the tiny pests. I doused the rest of me — my face, neck and hands — in an all-natural bug repellent (All Terrain Herbal Armor, if interested). I was only bitten once throughout the entire hike, so I count that as a success.
Right off the bat, I noticed the many flowers. Surrounding the parking lot, purple blossoms of wild rhodora stood out along the edge of the mossy forest. And on the trail, tiny, white, star-shaped flowers dotted the mossy forest floor. I later researched online to learn their name: starflowers.
Bunchberry was also in bloom. A common, low-lying forest plant, its four-petaled flowers are pale green to cream in color. Later in the year, they produce bunches of bright red berries, which I’m sure inspired their common name.
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But the highlight of my day was finding lady’s-slippers growing along the loop trail. In the orchid family, lady’s-slippers typically bloom late May through June. The plant produces a big, bulbous flower atop a tall stalk. The most common hue is pink, though the saturation of that color can vary from deep pink to almost white. Maine is also home to the less common yellow lady’s-slipper, and the rare ram’s head (which is white with reddish veins) and showy lady’s-slippers (which has distinct pink and white petals).
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The abundance and variety of birds in the forest also caught my attention, though I heard far more than I saw. At the bog, I spotted a kingfisher perching on a dead tree, and a great blue heron launched into the sky and flew away. I’m afraid I may have spooked it, even though I was on the opposite side of the bog.
I also watched a chickadee couple tending their nest, which was in a small tree cavity. I spied a common yellowthroat hopping from limb to limb in an evergreen tree. And I listened to the beautiful song of a hermit thrush — and many other bird songs I couldn’t identify.
All in all, it was a great nature walk. The mosquitos failed to carry me away, and I’m glad to have found some lady’s-slippers before their season passes. In nature, things are always changing.
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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.