There was a short window of real winter conditions in mid-February. That’s when I visited the Fields Pond Audubon Center, a 192-acre sanctuary in rural Holden, a short drive southeast of Bangor in Penobscot County. The center is owned by Maine Audubon, one of the eight such properties.
A good foot of snow blanketed the grounds, home to five trails and five miles of hiking. Snowshoes were needed on this day, so my wife and I strapped them on in the parking lot and trudged away across the fields, through the woods and along the lake shore.
The Meadow Path leads through the open to a summer boat launch on Fields Pond, the 85-acre central feature of the preserve. The Marsh Trail investigates the wetlands north of the modern visitor center, which houses a nature store, a reading room, interactive exhibits and a taxidermy collection.
The Ravine Trail leads gently uphill into a dark grove of hemlocks, while the Brook Trail traverses the riparian zone along a small stream that empties into the pond below. From numerous points along the Lakeshore Trail we looked out over the snow-covered pond, its pristine surface marred by just a single snowmobile track.
As a young boy in the 1970s, long before this place was conserved, I paddled and fished Fields Pond, and camped and hiked in these very woods. This was my first time back and my nostalgia meter was running wild.
There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen in the middle of this cold, clear winter’s day, but the property is actually chock full of birds and animals, according to Cyndi Kuhn, the center’s coordinator and lead educator. Deer, porcupines, foxes, weasels, squirrels, small rodents, and even fishers and mink make their home here, plus 175 species of birds at some point during the year.
“This place is a real gem that showcases diverse habitats, the importance of those habitats and why they need to be protected,” said Kuhn. “It’s a precious textbook classroom environment.”
Fields Pond runs programs and workshops year round to help educate the public on habitat and wildlife conservation, and to increase the visibility of this wonderful but not-so-well-known place.
Snowshoes may be optional by the time you make a visit, but it’s hard to say given this maddeningly unpredictable winter.
Here’s a look at the seven other Maine Audubon sanctuaries:
At Borestone Mountain in Elliotsville Township, hikers can enjoy three miles of trails on 1,600 acres. Combine the Base and Summit trails for a rewarding climb to the twin peaks of the 1,981-foot mountain and grand views into the 100-Mile Wilderness.
At East Point in Biddeford Pool, a short but very scenic trail leads hikers around the point separating Saco Bay and the Gulf of Maine. It’s a public-access gem along this stretch of the Maine coast.
Gilsland Farm in Falmouth is home to an environmental center and serves as the headquarters for Maine Audubon. Two miles of footpaths meander through 65 acres of meadows and woods on the Presumpscot River estuary.
Hamilton Sanctuary in West Bath encompasses 93 acres on a peninsula between the New Meadows River and Back Cove. A 1.5-mile trail wanders through meadows and forests of spruce and pine.
The 119-acre Josephine Newman Sanctuary in Georgetown is bounded on two sides by the salt marshes of the Sasanoa River and Robinhood Cove. Three trails combine for 2.5 miles of hiking featuring rocky ridges, meadows, coastal margins and mixed forest.
Mast Landing is just a mile from downtown Freeport. The 140-acre sanctuary on the Harraseeket River estuary offers three miles of hiking on five trails with streams, tidal marsh, orchard, fields and woods.
The Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, located on the 3,100-acre estuary of the same name, is the best-known Maine Audubon property. A jumping-off point for canoeing the marsh in summer, winter hikers can take to the nearby Eastern Trail for a wildlife walk.
Find more information at maineaudubon.org, or call 781-2330.