Difficulty: Moderate. The Birch Mountain Ledges Loop is about 2 miles long. Starting by the shore of Sebec Lake at a little over 300 feet above sea level, the trail climbs the northeast slope of the mountain to just under 700 feet above sea level. The trail does not lead all the way to the peak of the mountain, which lies outside of Peaks-Kenny State Park and is over 900 feet above sea level. The trail is rocky and crosses several brooks.
How to get there: From the center of town in Dover-Foxcroft, take Route 153 and drive about 4.5 miles and turn left onto State Park Road, which is marked with a large sign for Peaks-Kenny State Park. A short distance down the road is a gate. During the winter, this gate is closed and you must park outside the gate. From the gate it’s about 1 mile to the gatehouse (where you leave a small admission fee). The major parking area by the shore of Sebec Lake is another 0.5 mile farther down the road. The two trailheads of the Birch Mountain Ledges Loop are located by the lake.
Information: Peaks-Kenny State Park, located on the sandy south shore of Sebec Lake, is a popular outdoor destination year round. In the summer, people tent out at the parks 50-plus campsites, sunbathe on the sandy beach, swim and fish in the lake and explore more than 10 miles of trails. In the winter, the park is more quiet, but it’s a favorite spot for a handful of ice fishermen, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
The park also features a playground, numerous picnic spots, outhouses, boat launches and a pavilion that can be used for events.
One of the longest trails in the park is the Birch Mountain Trail, a 2.3-mile loop trail that travels to the one of the high points of Birch Mountain. If you include the 0.2 trail that closes the loop to form a full circle, the hike is 2.5 miles round trip and travels through a forest that includes stands of white ash, hemlocks, birch, beech and pine trees. The trail is marked with blue blazes and is easy to follow any time of year.
At the highest point of the hike, around 700 feet above sea level, a unique picnic table sits in the middle of a clearing. The picnic table is actually a sculpture, constructed by Bowdoin College graduate Wade Kavanaugh in 2009 through the Maine Art Commission’s Percent for Art program. Half of the table is supported by a giant cairn, a rock pile that trail blazers often use to mark hiking trails.
The table on Birch Mountain is just one of 12 tables constructed by Kavanaugh throughout the park. The way Kavanaugh constructed the tables to incorporate the landscape, they seem to melt into natural features, such as glacial erratics, old trees and streambeds.
The park trail network also includes the 0.2-mile Loop Trail, which swings off of the Birch Mountain Loop; the 0.4-mile Cove Trail, which travels along the edge of the South Cove; and the 1.7-mile Brown’s Point Trail, which starts at the gatehouse (where there’s a small parking area) and ends at the shore of Sebec Lake. Keep in mind that Brown’s Point Trail is a 3.4-mile round trip.
From May 15 to Oct. 1, the park is staffed and the gates are open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. For the rest of the year, the gate is closed but people are still welcome to visit the park and use the trails during the day. Simple park outside the gate and walk in on State Park Road, leaving an admission fee in the box outside the gatehouse.
Admission is $4 for adult Maine residents; $6 for adult non-residents; $2 for seniors; $1 for children 5-11 years old; and free for children under 5.
Pets are permitted but must be kept on leash (less than 4 feet) at all times. Stay on trail and as always, observe wildlife from a distance. Keep in mind that hunting is permitted on the property and wear blaze orange during hunting seasons.
The developed portions of the park was given to the state of Maine in 1964 by Francis J. Peaks, a lawyer from Dover-Foxcroft who served in the Maine House of Representatives. The gift of the land, which had long been a favorite picnicking spot for the Kenny family, was made in memory of his sister, Annie Peaks Kenney, and their parents, Joseph and Eliza Peaks, according to literature about the park’s history posted on the state website. The park first opened in 1969.
For information about Peaks-Kenny State Park and other state-owned lands open to the public, visit www.maine.gov/dacf/parksearch/. For information about Peaks-Kenny State Park in season, call 564-2003; off season, 941-4014.
Personal note: The gate to Peaks-Kenny State Park was closed when Derek and I arrived with our dog Oreo on Dec. 14, but I had expected that. We simply parked outside the gate and followed the tracks of a snowmobile, cross-country skis and white-tailed deer down the snowy road, which leads into the park’s main parking area near the shore of Sebec Lake. The 1.5-mile walk certainly warmed us up for the hike up Birch Mountain.
As we walked along the road, we noticed an abundance of snow fleas, which appear to be little specks of dirt until you look closely and realize they’re jumping! I’d seen them before, but when I pointed them out to Derek, he appeared to be first intrigued, then disgusted. I noticed he picked up the pace, as if he could escape them.
So I decided to do a little research on “snow fleas,” and I found out that they aren’t actually fleas at all, but a type of insect called a springtail, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension. They just happen to look and move like fleas. Springtails are harmless to people and pets. They feed on decayed vegetation, not blood.
We also saw several spiders crawling on top of the snow, which I also found interesting (and only a little creepy).
The Birch Mountain Ledges Trail started out as a wide snowmobile path running parallel to the shore of Sebec Lake to the pump house. From there, the trail became narrow and only for foot traffic. Marked with blue blazes, it was easy to follow. Our only difficulty was navigating over the brooks and a few flooded areas without getting our feet wet. Later in the winter, that would be less of a problem.
Though there are no views at the highest point of the hike, the evergreen forest up there is beautiful and the picnic table sculpture by Wade Kavanaugh make the high point feel like a bit more of a destination. To me, his table sculptures represent the power of nature. The way they’re constructed around boulders and trees seems to say that nature takes precedence over what is man-made. But I’m sure that’s just one of the many ways people interpret these tables.