Long Reach Preserve in Autumn
While each of the trails in Harpswell has something to offer, I always look forward to time spent at Long Reach Preserve. Not only does the Preserve offer the longest hike in town (nearly 2 miles in total), but you can enjoy a wide diversity of terrain and genuine solitude on this walk. The 95 acres owned by HHLT sit amid a much larger upland forest area that parallels Route 24 and placid Long Reach.
Autumn is a wonderful time to explore Long Reach, and on my early September walk, I found varicolored maple leaves already falling to the ground. In the large salt marsh, cattails are drying out, ferns are yellowing, swamp maples are scarlet and many other plants are preparing for the winter months to follow. Soon the birch trees will turn to gold, their leaves fluttering to ground on any breeze.
Three apple trees in the small meadow clearly had a hard time this summer, showing dried up leaves and very few apples. Some pruning was done on the apples two years ago but there is a need for more work this coming winter to keep these trees healthy and producing important mast for wildlife. On the other hand, the oak trees up the ridge are dropping copious amounts of acorns, always a welcome treat for deer, turkeys and other wildlife layering on fat to survive winter’s cold.
It was clear that our dry summer has impacted on Long Reach. The small creek under the bridge as you start up the trail is nearly dry, but autumn rains should soon bring it back to normal. The lovely bog, spanning several hundred yards in the middle of the Preserve, is well below normal water levels, but the deep peat bed underneath still retains plenty of moisture to sustain the various mosses and shrubs. I enjoy seeing the fiery reds and oranges in the bog, and as dusk approached, I could hear typical night sounds as insects and birds prepared for nocturnal activity.
Once you cross the first ridge on Long Reach, the highway sounds fall away. If you have the time, cross the second major ridge and approach the shoreline. Sit here and you could easily believe you are deep in the Maine woods, with lovely views of the water, an island and the granite cliffs across the way. It was low tide for my visit and I saw only a few waterfowl to the north but this quiet stretch of water is a favorite hangout for mallards and black ducks.
Completing my visit just before full darkness, I walked quietly past several small vernal pools that are now dried up. Next March and April, these pools will come alive with the harbingers of spring, spring peepers. It was easy to imagine an early native inhabitant of Harpswell creeping along the trail, stealthy quiet in moccasin feet, coming home from a successful hunt for food.