Hackett and Minot Trails: Trees and a legacy
One of a series of articles exploring the natural and human history of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s protected land.
A walk in the woods, to borrow Bill Bryson’s title, describes the Hackett and Minot trails. Except that for me, my first visit was a snowshoe in the woods. Blue sky, fresh snow, and only one set of tracks to follow. It was lovely.
Obviously there’s much more to healthy woods than trees and, in particular, the Hackett Preserve showcases a vernal pool. Snow hid the vernal pool on my snowshoe trek; but, there were the trees. I could pick out the white pine and paper birches and spruces. And I guessed at oaks, or maybe maples. I couldn’t tell you whether the spruces were black, red, white, or blue and the oaks black, red, or scarlet. Honestly, I’m not sure that I could distinguish between a hemlock or a fir or even maybe a spruce. For a walk in the woods, that seems like basic knowledge—that I lack.
So I gathered resources. Two sources seem particularly useful. The first is Peter Marchand’s North Woods, which has crystal clear drawings, like this leaf and bud of a sugar maple. It also includes a brilliant section for people who walk with their heads down: “Trees from the Waist Down.”
The second source is The Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, by the Maine Forest Service. Descriptions and photos are clear and informative, and it’s a free download. Best of all are its keys to identify trees in winter and summer.
I also collected a general field guide for New England and ogled an app that identifies trees by their leaves: “Leafsnap.”
Armed with resources, I set out to walk in the woods to learn what trees are growing there. Ultimately, I would like to decipher the history of the forest’s succession, using Marchand’s analyses of the influences that shape the ecology. We can see succession unfolding as trees encroach on the old fuel pipeline easement.
Serendipitously, I met a better resource: David Hackett. He was the ideal person to strike up a conversation with in the parking lot. He walked with me, answering questions about the Hackett Preserve. His great-grandfather, David Hackett, acquired the land and the Tarr-Eaton house from the Eatons in the late 19th century. His great-grandfather had taken care of two elderly Eaton women. The Hackett family owned the property until 1983, when a chain of events led to the protection of the Tarr-Eaton house, the creation of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT), and eventually to the creation of the Hackett Land Preserve.
Trying to get at the age of the trees, I asked David if he knew when timber had last been harvested. He didn’t know, but he did walk me to the field west of the Tarr-Eaton house and said that he and his father mowed the field annually to keep the forest at bay. His father, also David, rigged a mower to be pulled by horses to a souped-up 1926 Dodge tractor. David laughed as he described the ensuing shaking and rattling. HHLT and the current owner of the Tarr-Eaton house now keep the field mowed.
As we walked the trails, David talked of changes he sees in the forest. In particular, he’s concerned about the decline of paper birches. He poked at one, looking for signs of fungus or infection or other source of stress and found nothing obvious. Noting that birches are abundant north of Lewiston, he’s concerned that climate change is harming birches in Harpswell. This is from someone who knows wood; David builds boats.
David thinks about preserving legacies. By preserving the Tarr-Eaton house through the Harpswell Historical Society, he sought to preserve a visually quiet welcome to Harpswell Center. HHLT was born in that effort. Through the generosity of the Norton and the Minot families, the Tarr-Eaton house, the Hackett Land Preserve, and the Minot’s adjacent conservation easement maintain a permanently preserved forest backdrop to an historic and typical 18th century Harpswell home.
I was lucky when I met David Hackett. I didn’t identify trees beyond pine, spruce, and birch. But we did hear a pair of barred owls calling to each other, and I got the land’s history from the person who knows it best.
Marchand, Peter J. 1987. North Woods: An Inside Look at the Nature of Forests in the Northeast. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston. Available through Curtis Memorial Library.
The Maine Forest Service. 2008. Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition. 1908 – 2008. http://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/publications/handbooks_guides/forest_trees/index.html
Leafsnap: An Electronic Fieldguide. http://leafsnap.com/