Steve Hirshberg, of Georges River Trout Unlimited, suggests outdoor activities to stay moving in the Midcoast:
"Rise and shine, you're lucky to be in the State of Maine!" Those were the words bellowed out every morning by George Thurston, University of Maine Machias assistant professor, Army Air Force WWII veteran, and head counselor at Camp Tall Timbers in Casco. For 14 summers, I was a camper and later a counselor at T.T. The immense viral pandemic challenge then was polio.
Today we are at war with the Covid-19 virus. Social distancing is the watchword to protect our families and neighbors. A good diet and regular exercise will help to maintain our immune defense systems. In Midcoast Maine we are fortunate to live where magnificent natural features surround us every day. There is a lot that we can do outside to remain healthy. The open water fishing season begins on April 1. Our clean fresh waters of Knox and Waldo counties hold a number of invasive fish species such as bass, northern pike and perch. These fish are delicious to eat and they are also a good source of protein. Best of all they're fun catch. Social distancing already occurs when two people, one in the bow and one in the stern, paddle their canoe on our rivers, lakes and ponds. It's great fun and good exercise. Don't forget to wear your flotation device at all times when you are on the water. Not everyone is an angler, but paddling and rowing are good exercise for all, and the nice views are a bonus.
Hiking and walking along the many trails near our rivers and atop our coastal mountains is good for everyone. The Georges River Land Trust manages and maintains an extensive 50 mile trails network. Here are a few recommended local paddles and hikes:
The St. George River Canoe Path offers splendid scenery and the feeling of a deep woods experience with easy paddling. There are quick white water runs too. My favorite upper river paddle begins in the village of Searsmont. Put in across the road from the post office. The next way point through the forest is down river at the Ghent Rd bridge. Here is where you can rest and have your lunch. Then walk up to the GHP kiosk and pick up a detailed canoe trail map. This map is very useful for planning all your river exploration.The Maine Dept of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife stocks trout at this location.
A big water run in the lower river puts in at the Bridge Cafe in Warren. This is the head of tide. On the outgoing tide you can zoom right down into Thomaston harbor, but slow down in order to watch the seals along with a great variety of birds and ducks.
The Georges River Land Trust maintains a trails system known as the Georges Highland Path (GHP). This is a patchwork of land trails that begins at Hogback and Frye Mountains in Montville, and extends southerly through the watershed all the way to the Pleasant Point Nature Preserve in Cushing.
The most challenging hike on the GHP is the Ragged Mountain trail in Rockport. The trail head parking area is located right beside rte 17. When you emerge above the trees onto the open ledges near the top of the mountain just keep following the blue blazes. There is an extensive trail network throughout Ragged Mt. A descent via the Thorndike Brook trail to Hope St. through the boulder field is delightful, but you will need a ride or shuttle back to your vehicle on rte 17.
If you want a relaxing walk on nearly flat terrain along the banks of the St. George River to see a variety of wildlife and birds, then go to the Appleton Preserve. Parking is in the I.F.&W. lot next to the river crossing at the Rte 105 bridge. The sight and sound of the white water rapids is most welcoming here. A loop near the end of the Appleton Preserve trail brings you to a section of the river where brown trout lurk deep in the dark slow waters.
When you walk across the road upstream from the I.F.&W. parking lot you will see the GHP Canal Path trail. This scenic trail goes to Ghent Rd. in Searsmont. Stop and carefully observe the map in the kiosk when you get to Ghent Rd. so that you can find your way across the road and then up the hill to where you will cross rte 131. A sign in the field there leads you to the Ridge to River trail. Take this trail through the woods. You will cross the river over an old snowmobile bridge. Continue on this long winding trail near the river to reach the Gibson Preserve not far from the Liberty / Searsmont town line. From the Appleton Preserve I.F.&W. parking lot to Gibson and back again is an all day hike, so bring your lunch and plenty of water. On the Canal Path section you will discover the hidden magic of Magog Falls and also learn about the ambitious pre-industrial history of the upper St. George River.
If you to want to experience a quiet picnic spot on the St. George riverbank amid a magnificent pine forest then go to the Pool Preserve. This hidden gem can be found by driving north on to Sennebec Rd. from rte 17 at the Four Corners Store in Union. Go about a mile on Sennebec Rd. from Rte 17 and then turn left onto the gravel road that's between two 4" x 4" wooden posts. This left turn is immediately before you reach the apple orchard. Don't park near the posts! Drive down the gravel road and then cross over the old concrete bridge where you can park. From here take the wide path through the forest downhill for about an eighth of a mile to the riverbank. Enjoy the solitude and the thick carpet of pine needles underfoot. The high ledges seen on the opposite bank will lead you back upstream to the plunge pool near where you parked.
Enjoy this spring outdoors, but for the time being don't share your binoculars until this virus has cleared out. We're lucky to be in the State of Maine.
Georges River Land Trust and the Georges River chapter of Trout Unlimited are two separate and distinct nonprofit organizations. GRLT and GRTU both help to protect and preserve the natural treasures of Maine. We also care about guarding the health and welfare of our family, friends and neighbors. Visit us at georgesriver.org and georgesrivertu.org
Steve Hirshberg is a board member and the vice president for Georges River Chapter, Trout Unlimited and is a delegate to the Maine State Council of TU. He also serves on the board of the Georges River Land Trust.