Celebrate the start of the spring season with a pleasant hike along the Spring Point Shoreway, which features a scenic stretch of South Portland waterfront. Over two easy miles from Willard Beach to Bug Light Park, you’ll enjoy beaches, forts, lighthouses, museums, natural and human history exhibits, and island and harbor views aplenty.
From the trailhead on Willow Street, head north along the sand and pebble arc of Willard Beach, taking in the sweeping views of Cushing Island and Ram Island Light, Peaks Island, House Island, and Little and Great Diamond islands.
Leaving the beach ahead, meander through the 80-acre campus of Southern Maine Community College on a paved pathway. On the route, the school’s Shoreway Arboretum showcases a variety of salt-tolerant trees and shrubs, including a Swiss stone pine.
Interpretive markers at the next viewpoint provide walkers with interesting facts about fish-eating cormorants, sea ducks, common gull species, migrating songbirds, bayberry shrubs, wildlife habitat and barnacles.
At an observation deck with a posted map of the Casco Bay islands, look to House Island to see Fort Scammel, the only one of the Casco Bay forts to fire a shot and be fired upon in battle, in early August of 1813.
Signs at the vista beyond describe the settlement history of Ferry Village and note that before the Civil War, there were more than 30 active shipyards in South Portland.
Fort Preble began as Fort Hancock, a temporary structure built during the Revolutionary War. In 1808, the fort was expanded and named after Commodore Edward Preble. The fort saw continuous use from the War of 1812 through World War II before being deactivated in 1947.
At an old gun emplacement, a marker describes Fort Gorges, seen prominently in Casco Bay. Built on Hog Island Ledge between 1858 and 1871, Fort Gorges was meant to aid in protecting the entrance to Portland Harbor but was never completed.
Hike over the huge granite blocks of the long breakwater to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, the only caisson-style lighthouse in the United States accessible by land, and one of the few lighthouses in Maine seasonally open to the public for tours. The lighthouse was built in 1897 to mark the dangerous Spring Point Ledge – the scene of many shipwrecks and groundings – on the west side of the main shipping channel in and out of Portland Harbor. The 950-foot breakwater was added in 1951.
After the next set of historical markers, which describe the brief revival of shipbuilding in South Portland just before and during World War II, cut through Breakwater Marina and then pass the former Joe’s Boathouse. Beyond Spring Point Marina, go by the entrance to the Portland Pipe Line Corporation, Maine Terminal Pier 2, via the street.
At Bug Light Park, take the paved path – part of the 6-mile South Portland Greenbelt Walkway – through a corridor of scraggly Scots pines to the Liberty Ship Memorial. The shipyards that once occupied this 140-acre parcel included 60 buildings and had the capacity to build 13 ships at a time with the help of 30,000 workers. Between 1941 and 1945, the yards turned out 266 cargo vessels, 30 Ocean-class vessels for the British Navy, and 236 Liberty ships for the U.S. Navy.
Formally known as Portland Breakwater Light, the elegant structure that is Bug Light was modeled on an ancient Greek monument and built with cast iron plates in 1875. The light was dubbed “Bug Light” because of its diminutive stature.
Just before the end of the walk, pass the brick edifice of the Cushing’s Point Museum and South Portland Historical Society, which houses a fascinating history of shipbuilding.
Return to the start by catching a South Portland transit bus, or simply saunter through the neighborhood streets.
For more info on this and other South Portland hikes, visit southportlandlandtrust.org