1-minute hike: Seaward Mills Stream Conservation Area in Vassalboro

Difficulty: Easy. The trail is about 0.7 mile long and travels over fairly even terrain. The most challenging part of the hike is staying on trail because the blue blazes that mark it are spaced far apart in some areas. Also, near the field, the trail can become a bit overgrown.

How to get there: From Route 201 in Vassalboro, drive east on the Webber Pond Road for 1 mile, then turn right onto Hannaford Hill Road. Drive 2.1 miles, then turn left onto Cross Hill Road. Drive 1.6 miles, then turn right onto Seawards Mills Road. Drive about 0.2 mile and the sign marking the trailhead is across the field on your right, at the edge of the woods. Park on the side of the road, well out of the way of traffic. Do not park in field entrances (what looks like a pull out or the beginning of a driveway).

Information: The 44-acre Seaward Mills Stream Conservation Area was donated to the Kennebec Land Trust by Elizabeth Cole, a longtime Vassalboro resident, in June 2011. The land features a mixed deciduous forest, a stand of mature hemlocks, 3,800 feet of frontage on the historic Seawards Mills Stream and 15 acres of agricultural fields, which are leased to a local farmer.

A 0.7-mile trail explores the forested part of the property and travels close to the banks of the stream much of the way. Starting at the edge of a field, the trail travels gradually downhill through a mostly deciduous forest to the edge of the stream. Just before reaching the water, the trail takes a sharp left and strikes east, weaving through the forest.

The traditional hiking path, the trail is narrow and travels over unimproved forest floor that includes plenty of exposed tree roots. Watch your footing. At about the halfway point on the trail, two benches are located at scenic spots on the stream less than 0.1 mile apart.

The most common forest on the property is aspen-birch, according to Kennebec Land Trust. But you’ll also notice several large oak trees on the property, which are especially vibrant in the fall. There’s also a sugar maple forest, and as you hike east, the forest transitions into a mature hemlock stand. Also, along the stream, you can find patches of bluejoint, a type of tall, long-lived grass that serves as food and cover for certain animals, including deer, muskrats and moose.

Flowing through the property from east to west, Seaward Mills Stream is just under 3 miles long, starting at its outlet on Threemile Pond (at 180 feet above sea level) to Webber Pond (at 120 feet above sea level). The stream was named after of Seaward family (which has also been spelled “Seawards,” “Sowards” or “Seward” by different sources). The family built a house on Webber Pond in the late 1700s and developed a mill at the stream’s inlet, according to Kennebec Land Trust. Also, during the late 18th and 19th centuries, the stream was home to a grist mill, saw mills and a hub mill.

Today, the stream serves as an important waterway for alewives, a species of fish that swims from the ocean up rivers and streams in the spring to spawn. Because the trail is located between a field and a waterway, it’s an excellent place to spot wildlife, including a wide variety of songbirds and waterfowl, as well as deer and moose.

The property is open to the public for hiking, nature observation, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hunting. Motorized vehicles are not permitted. Dogs should be under voice command or on a leash; and dog waste should be bagged and carried out. For more information, visit tklt.org or call 207-377-2848.

Personal note: A work assignment led me to central Maine on April 25, a sunny day with temperatures in the low 50s and a brisk breeze. Having escaped the office, I decided to prolong my freedom with a hike at Seaward Mills Stream Conservation Area.

I drove past the trailhead at first. It doesn’t exactly jump out at you. You have to follow the driving directions exactly and know where to look for it across the field. But once you spot it, it seems obvious and is marked with a large wooden sign.

From the trailhead, I followed the blue blazes painted on trees to the stream’s edge, then became confused about which way the trail turned and had to refer to the trail map provided on the KLT website. Once I confirmed that the trail turned east, I found the blazes again, but I lost them a couple more times throughout the hike. In some areas, they’re spaced just a little too far apart. In addition, hiking trails can be more difficult to follow in the fall and spring when the previous year’s fallen leaves coat the forest floor and hikers have yet wear down the path. Fortunately this trail follows the stream for most of the way, so if you lose it for a bit, it’s not a big deal.

Because I’d been in town to conduct an interview, I didn’t have my dog, Oreo, with me. So while walking the trail, I took the opportunity to slow down and take more photos than I would have if walking Oreo (who always wants to go, go, go). This slow pace resulted in me finding a variety of interesting mushrooms, including large, saucer-shaped white mushrooms growing on the trunk of a birch tree and clusters of dark brown jelly mushroom, which looks and feels like globs of Jello. I also found a beautiful mass of what I believe to be turkey tail mushrooms, which grow in layers and are the general shape of a fanned out turkey tail. This type of fungi displays bands of different colors — in this case, green, blue and purple, as well as grey, white and tinges of yellow-orange.

What I think is turkey tail mushroom.

Slowing down also gave me the opportunity to see a lot more birds than I may have otherwise. Though I tried to walk quietly, I managed to spook a pair of mallard ducks from the stream twice. And while standing at the stream’s edge, a female hooded merganser (a species of duck with what I like to think of as a brown mohawk) flew by at eye level. I think it was going to land in the water, then saw me and decided against it.

I was also excited when I entered a stand of trees filled with songbirds. Setting down my backpack, I switched my camera lenses and spent a good 20 minutes photographing the little birds as they flitted about in the trees. I later identified them as palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers, as well as one black-and-white warbler. I emailed local birding expert and BDN columnist Bob Duchesne about the experience, and he told me that those particular species are some of the first songbirds to arrive in Maine in the spring. He wasn’t at all surprised that I’d run into them.

A palm warbler

Other signs of spring I encountered included a swarm of blackflies by the stream — coincidentally right by the first bench, which made sitting down out of the question. I did, however, spend some time in the swarm to take photos of the water, and to my surprise, while the tiny flies landed on me, they didn’t bite me. This led me to do a little online research to find that there are several blackfly species that don’t bite humans, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. So perhaps I came across an early-hatching species that falls under that category.

A yellow-rumped warbler

Other highlights of my hike included the sound of the rushing water of Seaward Mills Stream, the curly shapes of unfurling ferns, and piles of deer and moose poop scattered along the trail. In addition, I noticed a few wooden signs displaying the latin names of various trees and the general shape of their leaves. I imagine it’s a beautiful place to be in the fall, when the leaves of the many aspen, oak and maple trees on the property turn vibrant colors.

More photos:

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.