April 22 marks the 47th Earth Day, the annual event that focuses on environmental protection. This year’s theme is “Environment and Climate Literacy,” according to the Earth Day Network, whose mission is to broaden and diversify the environmental movement on a global scale.
Mainers, living in the most heavily forested state in the nation, are all about trees, to the tune of nearly 18 million acres, from beech, maple and birch, to oaks and poplars, to pine, spruce, balsam fir and a good number of other species.
Maine also has the distinction of being a national leader in conservation. At the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, just one percent of the state’s land area enjoyed some form of conservation protection. Today that figure is about 20 percent or close to four million acres, owned outright or in conservation easement by private nonprofit land trusts and conservation organizations, or the state or federal government.
Clearly, Mainers have a lot to celebrate this Earth Day, so this hiker highly recommends getting out onto the trails of our woods and mountains. Here are a half-dozen shining examples of conservation around the state worth a good look.
GREAT POND MOUNTAIN WILDLANDS: The 4,500 acres in Orland under the care of the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust offer hikers plenty of options.
Trundle up to the extraordinary mountaintop cliffs on the preserve’s namesake peak via the granite bedrock way known as Mountain Trail (2.6 miles round-trip) for far-reaching views ranging from Acadia to Blue Hill to Penobscot Bay.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK: Our beloved Acadia is celebrating its centennial in 2016, so at least one visits this year is a must. With 130 miles of hiking trails to choose from, there’s no shortage of places to explore. Consider tackling Cadillac Mountain now before the throngs of summer visitors migrate to the summit. A traverse of the peak via the South and North Ridge trails (six miles one-way) nets you lots of Alpine-like walking, with glorious views all around.
LITTLE MOOSE PUBLIC RESERVED LAND: This 13,500-acre unit of Maine’s public lands system near Greenville encompasses Little and Big Moose mountains, and a host of pristine ponds.
In 2014, a new 3.7-mile trail (one way) was cut to Eagle Rock, a craggy pinnacle at the western edge of Big Moose Mountain, which is on Plum Creek Timber Company (now Weyerhaeuser) land and part of the 363,000-acre Moosehead Forest Conservation Easement. Amble your way there for the stunning vista north over Moosehead Lake to the high peaks beyond, a view that ranges as far as Katahdin in Baxter State Park.
SAWYER MOUNTAIN HIGHLANDS: The Frances Small Heritage Trust owns Sawyer Mountain Highlands, a parcel of 1,472 contiguous acres in Limerick and Limington that is part of the largest unfragmented block of undeveloped land in York and Cumberland counties. Combine the Smith Trail and old Sawyer Mountain Road for a nice hike to the mostly wooded mountaintop. Interestingly, the summit was the site of a whale oil light that guided ships safely into Portland harbor in the 18th century.
BALD PATE MOUNTAIN PRESERVE: A seven-mile network of trails makes possible many hours of exploration at this 486-acre preserve in South Bridgton, owned and managed by Loon Echo Land Trust. Viewpoints abound on the mountain’s ledges, and an ancient pitch pine forest adorns the 1,150-foot summit. A bronze marker on top honors the conservation supporters of Bald Pate Mountain, which was purchased in 1996 to save it from a television tower.
KENNEBEC HIGHLANDS: This 6,000-acre conservation area, which encompasses the highest peaks in northwest Kennebec and southeastern Franklin counties, is managed through a partnership between the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Climb Round Top Mountain in Rome for outstanding views over Long and Great ponds and the village of Belgrade Lakes (4.5-mile loop).