1-minute hike: Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport

Difficulty: Easy. Summit Road Trail is just 0.75 mile and leads to Beech Nut, a historic stone building at the top of Beech Hill, making for a 1.5-mile round trip. The trail is wide and smooth much of the way, though there is a rocky section not far from the trailhead. Woods Loop Trail is a little bit longer but, since it is through the forest, it is more sheltered from the sun and wind. It also leads to Beech Nut.

How to get there: There are two trailheads to the trail network of Beech Hill Preserve.

To start on the Summit Road Trail, the first and original trail of the preserve, drive to Rockport on Route 1 and turn onto Beech Hill Road, which is across from Hoboken Gardens. (Beech Hill Road will be on the right if you are heading south). Drive about a mile on Beech Hill Road and the parking area is on the left, just past the old gate to Beech Hill and a stone wall.

To start on the Woods Loop Trail, drive to Rockport on Route 1 and turn onto Rockville Street. (If you are heading south, it will be the first right after Fresh Off the Farm.) Drive about 0.7 miles on Rockville Street and the parking area is on the right.

Information: Beech Hill Preserve, 295 acres of blueberry fields and forest in Rockport, is one of the official stops on the Maine Birding Trail, with more than 125 species on its checklist. The preserve features two hiking trails, both of which are open to the public and lead to the top of Beech Hill, which is the only bald hilltop in the area and offers views of Penobscot Bay, Camden Hills and Saint George Peninsula.

But that’s not all.

Atop the grassy Beech Hill is Beech Nut, a sod-roofed stone building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can walk on the veranda that wraps around three sides of the building. An educational sign located on the deck answers some questions visitors might have about the hut’s construction and use over the years. May through October, open houses are held twice a month for the public to explore the inside of the building. View the open house schedule at www.coastalmountains.org/news/calendar.html#BNutCal.

The next open house is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, July 20.

Summit Road Trail: The original trail on the property, Summit Road Trail begins at Beech Hill Road trailhead and follows a stone wall and an old farm road for an easy 0.75-mile hike to the summit of the hill and Beech Nut. The trail begins in the forest but soon reaches the open blueberry fields. A few educational displays tell visitors about the grassland habitat and blueberry operation. An old road, the trail is wide, smooth and has a gradual incline. Since much of this route is through fields, consider wearing sun screen.

Woods Loop Trail: This trail begins at the Rockville Street Trailhead and passes through a two-acre sugar maple stand, according to the preserve website. The trail then winds through young forest before splitting into a loop trail.

“The left and more direct route continues through a young forest before running along the edge of the lower fields that approach the summit and Beech Nut. The right path on the loop swings more gradually through a majestic hardwood forest dominated by numerous towering oaks,” according to the preserve guide.

Beech Nut was constructed in the winters of 1913-1915 for the Gribbel family. Originally a shelter for picnics and afternoon tea, the beautiful stone building included a stove, ice chest, sinks and a toilet.

“Each of the building’s stones was hailed to the site by horse, individually wrapped in burlap bags and set in place by hand,” according to family testimony.

The architect hired to design and construct Beech Nut was Norway native Hans O. Heistad, who moved to Maine in 1905 to work on Bar Harbor’s coastal estates. His design for Beech Nut was inspired by the traditional Norwegian mountain house design of his childhood, known as a hytter. It includes a single undivided room with a hearth and cathedral ceiling. Also typical of a hytter is Beech Nut’s sod roof.

Atop the hill, this beautiful structure if highly visible and has inspired a variety of stories over the years, from rumors that it was a German spy house during World War I to tales about the site’s mystical properties, according to an educational display at the preserve.

In 1986, Beech Hill was protected by a conservation easement. In 2003, the Coastal Mountains Land Trust purchased summit of the hill with support from the Land for Maine’s Future program, the MBNA Foundation and individual donors. And in 2004, the Beech Nut Historic District, which includes the stone building, farm road and surrounding landscape, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the State of Maine.

Coastal Mountains Land Trust is a membership-based nonprofit working to permanently conserve land of western Penobscot Bay. Established in 1986, the organization has protected or facilitated the protection of more than 9,000 acres of land as preserves or conservation easements.

In 2007, the trust completed a full restoration of the building, which included replacement of the building’s sod roof, windows, doors and exterior veranda, as well as the repointing of the building’s stonework.

The preserve is open to the public during daylight house. Dogs are allowed on the preserve but need to be kept on a leash at all times. People and pets must stay on trail because Beech Hill’s fields are managed for grassland bird habitat and organic blueberry production — which financially helps support the preserve — and the forested areas of the preserve are home to a variety of wildlife.

If walking the preserve’s trails May-September, keep an eye out for harriers (hawks that soar low over the fields looking for mice), kestrels (small falcons that hover over fields while hunting for mice and grasshoppers), Savannah sparrows, eastern meadowlarks (yellow-breasted) and eastern towhees (commonly along the edges of the young forest), according to an educational display at the preserve.

Removal of native vegetation is strictly prohibited, but visitors may pick blueberries along the side of the trail — without crossing the string lining the trail. Visitors are allowed on the fields to pick blueberries only during the annual Free Pick event. The 2013 Free Pick Event is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4.

Vehicles, motorized and nonmotorized, are not allowed on the preserve; this includes bicycles and horses. Fires and camping are not allowed. Hunting is permitted in the forested areas only. And groups larger than 12 should obtain permission before visiting.

For information, including a preserve guide and trail map, visit www.coastalmountains.org. If interested in volunteering (as preserve steward, farm harvest volunteer, field hand or Beech Nut docent), call 236-7091 or email volunteers@coastalmountains.org.

Personal note: I heard about the unusual stone “hut” atop Beech Hill from a number of friends, and finally, I checked out the preserve online to learn about its hiking trails. Even though my friends described the European-style building to me before I traveled to Rockport with Derek and Oreo (my dog) on June 30 to visit Beech Hill Preserve, I was surprised to find that the so-called “hut” was much grander than I’d anticipated. From the stone arches along the veranda to the wildflowers growing on the sod roof, Beech Nut is a beautiful sight. I would suggest that anyone capable of a 1.5-mile walk to grab a sun hat and take the walk through the blueberry fields to the top of Beech Hill.

Though Derek, Oreo and I thoroughly explored all the Summit Road Trail had to offer, we didn’t attempt the Woods Loop Trail that day, so all information I have written above about that trail is taken directly from material provided by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. The woods trail does sound great, but I personally enjoy trails that are open to the wind and sun this time of year, when the blackflies and mosquitoes are thick in the forest.

After hiking Beech Hill Preserve, a blog reader sent me an email warning me about an abundance of ticks living in the preserve. I know he’s right because I picked a tick off poor Oreo when I got home, and then checked my body thoroughly for any that may have latched onto me. There are a lot of methods to repel ticks, but no matter what you do, I suggest always checking yourself and your hiking buddies thoroughly after all outdoor excursions. Hint: they like nooks and crannies.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.