The Mighty Cliff Trail
By Ed Robinson
Harpswell is known for its stunning scenery, and much of that scenery involves water. Add a lofty view across unspoiled forests, and you are in for a treat.
Make your way to 263 Mountain Road, park behind the Town offices. Make sure to pack your binoculars and camera. If you have a copy of the hiking brochure produced by the Town’s Recreation Committee take it along. If not, the trailhead is at the back left of the parking lot, by a lovely tidal bay that serves as the outlet for Strawberry Creek.
The Town owns roughly 200 acres here, some of it dedicated to the recycling center, but most of it a mature mixed forest. The first part of the Cliff Trail opened in 2001, and the full 2.3 mile trail was dedicated in 2004. Follow the white blaze marks as you stroll along the creek and with any luck you will see, or hear, birds of various species. At the head of the bay, you will find the old county road running east and west. Where the road crosses Strawberry Creek, with low tide and sufficient water in the stream, you will see an intermittent waterfall called the Cascades.
At this point, you have the option of taking a cut off trail to your right marked with yellow blazes, to reduce your journey by half a mile. Unless you are in a hurry, continue along the main trail to the north past a shrub/scrub bog area and in springtime you may see vernal pools. The damp environment here supports a mix of mosses and ferns. Soon you come to a junction, so take a few minutes for the side trail on the left that leads to Henry’s Creek and a quiet salt marsh. Then continue on the main trail, climbing through rolling terrain to a high ridge.
As you reach the top of the ridge, the view makes you forget the calories burned so far. One hundred and fifty feet below you is Long Reach, stretching far to the north. Be careful as you approach the granite cliff face because the drop here is 90 feet straight down. Across the water is the 90 acre Long Reach Preserve owned by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, helping to maintain this beautiful area. In some years ospreys nest nearby so you may see one gliding on a thermal, and hear the high pitched whistle warning you to keep your distance.
Once you have enjoyed this special place, continue along the trail to the south. Once you leave the ridge and begin your descent you will come to a marked area called the Fairy House Zone (there’s a second one on the cut off trail just above the old town road). Please be careful not to disturb the houses, and it’s particularly bad luck to step on these magical creatures. The Harpswell building code for fairy houses specifies the use of non-living materials only. Please remember that lichens and mosses are living matter, and a troll with a bad attitude patrols the area to inspect construction projects.
At the bottom of the trail you will emerge just above the recycling center. Please walk to your left around the center and use the sidewalk to the Town office building to get back to the parking lot. Enjoy the Cliff Trail in all kinds of weather, and I recommend a brisk hike on snowshoes if there is adequate snow cover. While I have not been up to the cliff at sunrise, it would be worth losing a little shut eye.
Many thanks to those dedicated volunteers who keep the Cliff Trail in great shape (contact Recreation Director Gina Perow if you want to help). The Cliff Trail is another great reason why Harpswell is a wonderful place to live or to visit.