Difficulty: Easy-moderate, depending on the trails within the preserve that you choose to explore. Exercise caution on the trails that hug the shore, where you’ll find steep slopes and cliffs. Short sections of trail travel up steep hills. The forest floor is uneven in many places with exposed tree roots and rocks.
How to get there: Driving south through Deer Isle village on Route 15, turn left onto Sunshine Road, which is across from Mill Pond Mobil. Follow Sunshine Road for about 2.5 miles, then turn right onto Tennis Road. Follow Tennis Road less than 0.5 mile, past a few houses and a hostel, to the preserve, which is marked by several signs. Four small parking areas for the preserve are located along the gravel road. They are marked with “P” signs. To protect fragile plants, only park in designated spaces. If they’re all full, the Island Heritage Trust asks that you return another time.
Information: The Edgar M. Tennis Preserve comprises about 145 acres of coastal land on Deer Isle, between Pickering Cove and Southeast Harbor. This land was donated to the State of Maine by Dr. Edgar M. Tennis and his family starting in 1972, with the wish that the land and shore be made available to the public, and that it remain “forever wild,” according to the Island Heritage Trust.
Today, the public can explore the preserve year round on a network of walking trails, which are maintained by the Island Heritage Trust and the Maine Department of Conservation. It’s a popular spot for recreators, but due to its limited number of parking areas, it’s never crowded.
Driving into the preserve on Tennis Road, you’ll notice that there are four trailheads, two on each side of the road, as well as two parking areas, two on each side of the road. Refer to the trail map to decide which route you’d like to hike.
On the east side of the road (your left if driving into the preserve), there are 2 miles of intersecting trails. Key features of this section of the preserve are several stunning views of the ocean, a beautiful small beach, an old cemetery and the foundations of Pickering Farm.
On the west side of the road (your right if driving into the preserve), there are 1.4 mile of intersecting trails. Key features of this section of the preserve include views along the shore and the foundations of the Davis Farm.
As you visit the foundations of old homesteads and the tombstones of previous landowners, it’s impossible not to think about the land’s history and how it must have appeared quite different just a few decades ago.
Artifacts found on the property indicated that Native Americans camped along the shore for up to 2,000 years, according to the Island Heritage Trust brochure about the preserve. In more recent times, deeds from the 1790’s show that the land was settled by Elijah Toothaker and his wife Elizabeth. Their children farmed the land, and later, the Pickering and Davis families farmed there.
Around 1914, the artist Chase Emerson purchased the farmhouse on the shore, according to the Island Heritage Trust. And finally, the Tennis family purchased the property in 1944.
Admission is free, and dogs are permitted if on leash. The land trust asks that visitors stay on trail, respect abutting private property, pick up trash and take nothing from the landscape (take photographs instead!). The preserve is open for day use only. Motorized vehicles, mountain bikes, camping and fires are prohibited.
For information, visit islandheritagetrust.org, where a printable trail brochure and map are available, or call the land trust at 348-2455.
Several trails allow visitors to explore the wooded preserve; I chose one that would lead us right to the ocean. The sunny day seemed to be growing hotter by the minute. I knew Oreo could use a dip in the ever-cold Atlantic, plus it would be nice to eat lunch by the water.
After signing the trail register, we ducked into the shade of an evergreen forest and began following orange blazes. The narrow trail was a brown thread worn into a carpet of emerald green moss. Tree roots and chunks of granite snagged at my hiking sandals as Oreo charged ahead, seemingly eager to see where the trail led.
It wasn’t long before we could see water shining through the trees ahead like a guiding light. Carrying a take-out box, I took a side path to the rocky shore, sat on a relatively flat rock and shared my sandwich with Oreo.
Properly fueled, we continued on our exploration of the preserve. The trail hugged the shore, often traveling along the edge of impressive slopes (that would be a big dangerous for young children). Along the way, we visited several rocky outlooks and a small beach of rough rosy sand.
The trail then turned inland and we took a side trail to visit the old Toothaker family cemetery. The family arrived in Deer Isle in the 1790s and established a farm. As I read the headstones, Oreo rolled in the grass. I smiled, thinking that the Toothakers probably wouldn’t mind the playful antics of such a cute visitor.
Continuing on the trail, we came across a clearing that contained the foundations of a farm once owned by the Pickering family, which also used to farm the land, then returned to the main road and followed it to our vehicle.
The loop hike was about 2 miles long, and there were several trails we didn’t have the time to visit, including a trail to the foundations of the Davis Farm. Perhaps we’ll explore more on another day.