Difficulty: Easy. The preserve features about 2.5 miles of old woods roads and trails, though a part of the Back Loop Trail is not traversable in the spring or summer due to the wet ground. Expect long stretches of narrow bog bridges, which require you to balance and watch your step.
Information: A 100-acre parcel of wetlands and mixed forest in Castine, the Rene Henderson Natural Area is a beautiful slice of wilderness that features thick beds of ferns, old trees, a pond and an interesting variety of understory plants. On the property, about 2.5 miles of trails and old roads make exploration easy.
The preserve was originally purchased by the Conservation Trust of Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot (TCT) in 1992 from the estate of Myrtle M. Wood. In 2014, the property was transferred to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust when TCT merged with the Blue Hill Heritage Trust.
The property is almost entirely forested, with a mix of upland forest and forested wetlands. However, not far from the parking lot is an open, beaver-generated pond and wetland complex. You can reach this by walking past the trailhead kiosk and following the Eagle Trail, which is marked by a sign and blue blazes. (However, on the map displayed on the kiosk, this trail is labeled as being a part of the “Pond Loop.”)
Also connected to the parking lot, south of the kiosk, is the Garden Trail, which follows an old road and forms a big loop. This trail is noticeably wider than the Eagle Trail and travels through a few small clearings.
Branching off the Garden Trail and exploring the eastern half of the property is the Back Loop (labeled as the Eagle Loop on the kiosk map). The far end of this loop travels through an especially soggy area and is impassable during the spring and summer. You can however explore a part of this trail and turn back when it becomes muddy.
Most trail intersections are marked with helpful signs, but I advise carrying a GPS or mobile phone (with reception) to help you stay oriented if you’re a first-time visitor. Even something as simple as Google Maps can be helpful in revealing the direction of the road and trailhead parking area.
The property is shared by hikers and hunters. Be sure to wear blaze orange during hunting seasons. And during the winter, it’s a great place for snowshoeing on the trails and ice skating on the pond. Camping and fires are not permitted. Dogs are permitted if on leash or under strict voice control at all times. Carry out all trash, including pet waste. Respect the privacy of the neighbors.
For more information, visit mcht.org or call 207-729-7366.
Personal note: Airy ferns and tall yellow wildflowers danced in the breeze on June 10, beckoning us into the forest. That day, my husband, Derek, agreed to pause work for a few hours to join me on a small adventure with our dog, Oreo. And with such pleasant weather, he couldn’t have regretted it. The temperature was warm — in the 70s — but not hot. The sun shone down, filtering through the trees. And a steady breeze swept almost all the blackflies and mosquitoes away.
From the parking lot, we headed straight toward the pond on the Eagle Trail. As we neared the pond, I switched my camera lenses in anticipation of spotting a turtle or heron — but it was no use. While plenty of birds could be heard, we saw nothing but still water edged with vibrant green grasses. Perhaps if we’d arrived earlier in the morning, or without an excited dog in tow, we would have seen a beaver and not just the half-gnawed-down tree it had left behind.
Continuing along the trail, I was delighted to find cinnamon ferns with their tall green fronds and cinnamon-colored wands. And I was captivated by the amount of bunchberry plants covering the ground, creating a carpet of fat green leaves dotted with white blossoms. There we lingered a while enjoying all the greenery. To me, it looked almost like a garden, carefully arranged by Mother Nature’s hand.
We then walked through a shady stand of white cedar trees and across several bog bridges edged with ferns and skunk cabbage with leaves bigger than pie plates. Little moths often fluttered across the path, and in sunny areas, dragonflies lighted on plants in front of us. We also spotted a number of white starflowers and the dark purple blossoms of blue-eyed grass.
Throughout the walk, I noticed a variety of ferns, some reaching over 5 feet tall. And in some spots, the ferns grew so closely together, over such a large area, that you couldn’t even see the forest floor. If we didn’t have Oreo on a leash, I’m afraid we might have lost him.
Hiking with Oreo, I never expect to see much wildlife, but we did hear what sounded like a deer crashing through the woods. And on the drive home, we actually stopped because a deer was standing in the middle of the road. Then — to my extreme excitement — we spotted a fawn wading through tall grass nearby, calling out. In less than a minute, the mother deer joined its baby and they bounded off into the woods.
Directions: The preserve’s small gravel parking lot — marked with a wooden sign — is on The Shore Road (Route 166) in Castine, approximately 0.8 miles north of the intersection of The Shore Road and Castine Road. If using a GPS, it may be helpful to look up Mill Lane, which is an overgrown road that’s just a bit south of the preserve parking lot, on the opposite side of the road.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on 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.