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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Posted: June 11, 2018

Hiking in Maine: Damariscotta River’s just a dream

Written by: Carey Kish

The Damariscotta River estuary is one of the most productive oyster farming regions along the Maine coast and part of a growing multimillion-dollar industry that brings the tasty natural delicacy to our tables.

The surrounding Damariscotta River watershed also happens to be home to an impressive number of beautiful land trust properties and many miles of outstanding hiking trails.

Take a great hike and sample a plate of raw oysters on the half shell on your next outing to the Damariscotta region for a winning combination of outdoor fun and flavorful food. This hiker did just that and much more on a visit to the area at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

First up on the menu was a wandering walk through the La Verna Preserve in Bristol, which features 3,600 feet of rugged oceanfront on Muscongus Bay. Four trails combine for a terrific three-mile circuit hike with scenery that rivals that of Cutler along the Downeast coast. The salty view from the rocks at Leighton Head had me pausing in awe for a long time, as did the reflecting freshwater pool farther along. La Verna reigns as one of the premier hikes in midcoast Maine.

Next up was a trek through bustling downtown Damariscotta and across the bridge into Newcastle for a stop at the River Bottom Raw Bar (soon to be renamed the Shuck Station). Owner Brendan Parsons is an oyster farmer and a Maine champion oyster shucker (in 2017 he shucked a dozen oysters in 1 minute, 5 seconds to win the title) and we enjoyed a delicious dozen of the briny bivalves while chatting about everything oysters.

Negotiating the rural wooded byways north of town, I finally found Oxbow Brewery, where a refreshing flight of craft brews (the Farmhouse Ale was my favorite) in the funky tasting room was just the ticket. Mike Fava, the masterful head brewer, joined me for a pint before regaling me with a tour of the operation.

With daylight and energy on the ebb tide, I headed back to Damariscotta and tucked into King Eider’s Pub for a heaping serving of mussels and a burger. Then I wound southward to Thompson House Cottages on Pemaquid Point in New Harbor, where I quickly dropped off into a deep and restful slumber listening to the rhythmic ocean waves lapping the rocks just yards below. And so concluded but one of an endless array of possible itineraries when visiting this scenic and interesting chunk of the Midcoast.

La Verna Preserve is owned by the Pemaquid Watershed Association, one of the four amazing land trusts that work to protect land and preserve water quality in the region. Boothbay Region Land Trust, Damariscotta River Association and Midcoast Conservancy are the other three, and combined, these robust conservation organizations have enough footpaths to keep you busy for many summers.

Other favorites of mine that I highly recommend include PWA’s Crooked Farm Preserve in Bristol, where three miles of trails wind along a placid stretch of the Pemaquid River and weave through mossy stone walls. DRA’s Salt Bay Heritage Trail in Newcastle follows a lovely three-mile route along the southern edge of Great Salt Bay to Glidden Midden, an ancient shell heap on the banks of the Damariscotta River. At BBRLT’s Ovens Mouth Preserve in Boothbay, explore salt marshes, the tidal Back River and Cross River, and the secretive Ovens Mouth on a 3.5-mile figure-eight hike. Midcoast Conservancy’s Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson has 1,000 acres of ecologically diverse terrain and 30 miles of trails.

As if you needed any more excuses to visit the Damariscotta River estuary region to hike and enjoy oysters, two big events this summer celebrate the popular mollusk. The inaugural Damariscotta Oyster Celebration, June 14-16, features competitions between renowned chefs, a shucking competition, live music, local foods, a kid’s art contest, and plenty of oysters and cold beverages (www.oystersmaine.com). The 18th annual Pemaquid Oyster Festival, a fundraiser for the Edward Meyers Marine Conservation Foundation, is Sept. 30 at Schooner Landing Restaurant and Marina in Damariscotta (pemaquidoysters.com).

 

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