Full disclosure: Topsham is my home town.
But Topsham didn’t look like this when I was a kid.
Back in the days when I was spending most of my time in this Sagadahoc County town, the claim to fame was the Dairy Queen, which has proudly displayed a sign since 1966, letting everyone know that LBJ ate there. (In case you’re too young to recognize those initials, Lyndon B. Johnson was our 36th president, beginning his first term in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.)
The Topsham of 51 years post LBJ’s visit has a lengthy list of big box stores, too many chain restaurants to count and even a Smitty’s movie theater, all built on land that was once a huge sand pit. But there are also locally-owned eateries, great hiking and walking trails, beautiful views of the cleaned-up Androscoggin River and a beverage warehouse where customers can peruse adult beverages from Maine and beyond.
Our latest visit started at the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge. Originally built in 1892 by the same company that built the Brooklyn Bridge, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
Back in my days at Mt. Ararat High, it was the cool place to hang out, but during the 1990s, the 30-foot-high bridge was closed for repairs. A committee was formed to restore the bridge at a cost of $710,000, and it was reopened to the public in 2006.
Walk across the suspension bridge from the small park on the Topsham side to Brunswick, where there’s a tiny parking lot, and you’ll feel the slight swaying caused by the cables. You’ll also get great views of the river as it flows into Topsham and past the former Pejepscot Paper Company mill, now home to one of Sea Dog Brewing Co.’s locations.
Adjacent to Sea Dog is Blueberries Food and Drink, a go-to breakfast spot for locals and students at nearby Bowdoin College. Blueberries has the type of menu that makes it hard to choose a meal: plate-sized cinnamon roll pancakes or a Big Daddy Wrap, breakfast tacos or cherry french toast from the daily specials menu. (Tip: Blueberries offers several “add-ins” to its buttermilk pancakes. So instead of going plain, try the coconut.)
The eatery is small, with just nine tables, but definitely worth the wait, when there is one. The staff is super-friendly and gets your food out quickly.
Just in case you didn’t order enough, there are displays of fresh baked goods at the counter to grab on the way out. And you don’t have to feel bad about that extra cookie because 5-plus miles of trails await.
The 235-acre Cathance River Preserve isn’t the easiest set of trails to find, but once you emerge at the rear of Highland Green and park near the trailhead, you’ll be glad you made your way past all those streets named for birds.
The preserve, created in 2000, is home to an ecology center and the 2-mile Cathance River Trail, which winds along the namesake body of water. The views are spectacular in spring and summer, when the plants along the riverbed are in full greenery. The water is accessible in several spots, and the Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust have done a terrific job placing benches for snack breaks or river gazing at many strategic points.
Once you’ve finished the Cathance River Trail, there’s also the shorter Highland Trail and Heath Loop to tackle. Several connector trails allow hikers to cut across from Cathance to Highland.
Those who are looking for additional mileage can continue on the Cathance River Trail past the edge of the preserve and traverse another 1.2 miles to Head of Tide Park. The reward is a 20-foot waterfall where the river flows into a tidal offshoot of Merrymeeting Bay.
If you’d rather walk on a paved path, you can still get fantastic river views along the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path, stretching 2.6 miles from the parking area on Elm Street to Brunswick’s Cook’s Corner.
If you’re looking for some after-hike beverages, the deck at the Sea Dog is the best option around. You’ll be drinking your Sea Dog Sunfish high above the Androscoggin, watching travelers heading back and forth to Brunswick across the Frank J. Wood Memorial Bridge. Beers, of course – from stout to blueberry wheat – are the big draw here, but the restaurant has a full bar and Capt’n Eli’s specialty sodas.
If you’d rather get home before you imbibe, a stop at Bootleggers Beverage Warehouse is a must.
Bootleggers, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in May, offers monthly beer tastings on Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m. and wine tastings every third Saturday.
The beer and wine options here are a little overwhelming. You’ll find local wines and craft beers along with any national multipacks you’re looking for.
Whatever you pick will taste mighty fine when you get home, put your feet up and post all those awesome photos from your day on Facebook.
Correction: This story was updated at 6:09 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2017 to clarify that the Cathance River Trail is located near Highland Green and not The Highlands.