1-minute hike: Birch Point Trail, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Steuben

Difficulty: Easy-moderate. Birch Point Trail is a little more than 4 miles, round trip, and travels over fairly even terrain. Most of the trail is wide and smooth. At the far end of the hike, the short trail to Lobster Point and the small loop trail to Birch Point are both narrow and require more attention to footing.

How to get there: Take Pigeon Hill Road off Route 1 in Steuben and follow it to the end. The parking area for the Birch Point Trail is 5.8 miles from Route 1, and the parking area for the Hollingsworth Trail is 6.2 miles from Route 1.

Information: The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, formerly called the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge Complex, contains 47 offshore islands and three coastal parcels, totalling more than 7,400 acres. The refuge complex is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Refuge management are primarily concerned with restoring and managing colonies of nesting seabirds. Refuge islands provide habitat for terns, puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, Leach’s storm-petrels, laughing gulls, common eiders, wading birds and bald eagles. The mainland divisions provide habitat for songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.

The 2,166-acre Petit Manan Point Division in Steuben is one of the three coastal parcels of the refuge complex. It features two interpretive hiking trails — the Hollingsworth Trail (a 1.5-mile loop) and the Birch Point Trail (about 4 miles round trip) — that are open to the public from dawn to dusk.

The trails lead walkers through a variety of habitat, such as jack pine stands, coastal raised heath peatlands, blueberry barrens, old hayfields, fresh and saltwater marshes, cedar swamps, granite shores and cobble beaches. Interpretive signs help hikers understand their surroundings.

The Birch Point Trail starts in a blueberry field, then passes through mixedwood forest and leads to the salt marshes of Dyer Bay. Chairs and benches are located at several of the interpretive signs along the trail.

About a mile from the trailhead, a side trail leads to the shore (to the right if you’re heading away from the parking area) to a viewpoint of Carrying Place Cove and a rest area, complete with Adirondack chairs and an interpretive sign about why coves are important to animals such as seabirds.

The Birch Point Trail, continues through the forest. Near the far end, the trail comes to a juncture marked by a sign. If you turn right, you’ll head toward Lobster Point, the home of porcupines, which have stripped many trees of their bark. Along the way, you will pass a salt marsh (and interpretive sign about it) and cross over some bog bridges before reaching the end of the trail at a viewpoint and chairs by the water.

Instead, if you turn left at the trail juncture, you will head toward Birch Point. The trail exploring Birch Point is a small loop that leads to several views of the water and crosses a cobble beach, which hikers can learn more about from an interpretive sign by the shore. The entire hike, out and back, is a little more than 4 miles.

A pamphlet published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the Maine Coastal Islands National Refuge Complex includes some interesting facts that demonstrate the importance of Petit Manan Point Division to area wildlife. Resident wildlife include ruffed and spruce grouse, white-tailed deer, bobcats, snowshoe hares, porcupines, coyotes and raccoons, and many migrating birds animals depend on habitats on Petit Manan Point during certain times of the year.

During fall migration, the 80-acre Cranberry Flowage on Petit Manan Point is filled with more than 4,000 ducks; black ducks, green-winged teal and mallards rest and feed on wild rice in preparation for their flight south. Also, the former pastures and blueberry fields on Petit Manan Point — maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through periodic mowing and controlled burning — provide nesting habitat for grassland birds such as bobolinks and savannah sparrows. In the spring, American woodcock use the clearing for their courtship displays.

The Petit Manan Point Division offers excellent opportunities for wildlife watching and hiking, but while visiting, people are asked to follow a few rules:

  • Only visit during daylight hours.
  • Dogs are allowed on the refuge but must be on hand-held leashes no longer than 10 feet.
  • All-terrain vehicles are open fires are not allowed.
  • Blueberries may be hand-picked; raking is not allowed.

For information, call the refuge complex headquarters in Milbridge at 546-2124 or visit www.fws.gov/refuge/maine_coastal_islands.

Personal note:

Sometimes I just feel like walking alone and enjoying nature. It’s a lot easier to sneak up on wildlife with a camera if you’re hiking solo rather than with a chatty hiking buddy or excitable dog. So when I visited Birch Point Trail for the first time on July 21, I left my dog Oreo home.

I actually didn’t get a lot of wildlife photos that day — just a few birds –but it was nice to spend some time walking the trail with my thoughts. Birch Point Trail exceeded my expectations in several ways. The interpretive signs along the trail were great for people of any age (I learned a thing or two) and were beautifully made — carved wooden boxes, each containing three signs that could be slid out and read one at a time.

The trail itself was maintained, easy to follow and traveled through such a wide variety of habitats that I really had to pay attention to note the abrupt changes in the landscape. And I especially enjoyed walking through the blueberry fields, where the berries were ripe and free for the picking. I had no need for the energy bars in my pack that day.

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.