1-minute hike: Gibson Preserve in Searsmont

Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The preserve has four miles of trails, split by the St. George River. The trails travel over fairly even terrain and include several small bridges.

How to get there: Gibson Preserve has two separate trail networks, and therefore, two trailheads.

To reach the north trail network, start at the center of Searsmont at the Fraternity Village Store and drive west on Route 173 for three miles. The parking lot will be on the left. From the trailhead kiosk, the trail crosses a small meadow and enters the woods.

To reach the south trail network, start at the center of Searsmont and drive west on Route 173 for two miles and turn left onto Ripley Corner Road. Park on the shoulder of the road. Proceed on foot down the road and cross a bridge over St. George River. After the bridge, take the first right onto the overgrown woods road. Walk approximately 0.25 mile to the preserve entrance on the right, a footpath that leads to a trailhead kiosk.

Information: The 124-acre Gibson Preserve is named after Charles Dana Gibson and Kay Gibson, who gifted the land to the Georges River Land Trust in 1999. Today, the preserve features approximately four miles of walking trails that are open to the public year round for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The trails are well-marked with blue blazes and travel over relatively even terrain; yet walkers should still be careful of their footing. Exposed roots and wooden bog bridges require attention. 

The preserve’s two trail networks are separated by the St. George River, which runs through the property from northwest to southeast. The land trust plans to construct a bridge over the river that will connect the two trail networks, but as of October 2013, the bridge was yet to be built.

The 225-square-mile St. George River watershed extends from Montville to Port Clyde, where the 51-mile-long river flows into Muscongus Bay. The Georges River Land Trust mission is “to conserve the ecosystems and traditional heritage of the Georges River watershed region through permanent land protection, stewardship, education, and outdoor experiences. Today, the land trust stewards 54 properties (39 conservation easements and 15 preserves).

The Gibson Preserve is managed for “high quality of wildlife habitat.” Hunting is not allowed on the property and dogs must be kept on leash at all times. A natural resources inventory found five amphibians, three reptiles, 59 birds and 14 mammals. And the forest was estimated to be about 40-50 years old, according to the land trust website.

The preserve is free for the public to use during the day, but camping is not allowed. For information, including a printable trail map, visit www.georgesriver.org. The Georges River Land Trust can be reached at 594-5166.

Personal note: My dog Oreo and I explored the north trail network of the Gibson Preserve on Oct. 19, a sunny and unseasonably warm Saturday. While Oreo enjoyed the various scents of the forests and fields (his nose often buried under leaves), I enjoyed the preserve’s vibrant colors — the occasional beech tree, with its bright yellow-orange leaves; the forest floor, covered with orange pine needles and golden ferns; the deep blue sky reflecting in the St. George River; the red maple leaves floating in the streams; and the rich green conifer stands.

About a third of the way through our hike, we stopped to watch a group of chickadees, which I’ve learned from various birding websites is called a “banditry.” As winter nears, it’s comforting to know that the black-capped chickadee, of all the animals that roam Maine’s forests, will continue to visit me during my various hikes. Adult chickadees don’t migrate, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It knows its home so well that it stashes seeds and other food in thousands of hiding spots to be retrieved and eaten later.

I learned a lesson on this hike that I’d like to share with you. Keep track of your sunglasses, especially during leaf peeping season. About halfway through the hike, at the far end of the large loop trail, I looked up at an especially beautiful beech tree and my Ray Bans slipped off the top of my head. Of course, I didn’t notice until I got back in Fred the Forester. So Oreo and I had to hike the whole trail network again (this time at triple the pace) looking for the glasses. Fortunately, I remembered looking up at the tree and shooting video (the clip seen at the beginning of the “1-minute hike” video), so I had an inkling of where I’d find the glasses. On the bright side, Oreo was happy to go for a fast walk and burn off some energy.


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.