The surprisingly big Edwin L. Smith Preserve in Kennebunk, Maine is the largest holding of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT) and sits on over 1,100 acres. Smith Preserve, known for birding and biking, is part of an undeveloped 3,000-acre block of land which KCT’s web site describes as the largest such coastal block between Kittery and Brunswick. The provenance of this area is unique – a large 1947 fire destroyed multiple homes and farms, resulting in an eventual tax default. The land then reverted to the town of Kennebunkport as the town forest, but in 2002, Kennebunkport residents voted to transfer 741 of these acres to KCT. On the first weekend of December, I hiked a long counterclockwise lollipop loop through Smith Preserve, using the Steele Trail, Bobcat Ridge extension, Bobcat Ridge Trail, and the Trolley Trail to return to the Steele Trail. This easy 8-mile loop over rolling terrain took about two and a half hours. A printable map is available from the KCT site.
The trailhead is on Guinea Road in Kennebunkport, marked by a tasteful engraved stone with a parking area opposite. This lot has a capacity of about 15-20 cars, and on this early winter morning, most of the license plates were from New Hampshire. The well-signed trail begins in a marshy area paralleling the road. Up-to-date maps with “you are here” points are placed strategically at trail intersections, and there are small periodic alternate flourishes off the trail for mountain bikes. The yellow-blazed Steele Trail is the “main drag,” but longer or shorter loop hikes can be created by using the loop trails along the way, like the Brook Trail, Fox Den Trail, and Beacon Trail. A Forestry Management Project is underway in a 20-acre section of the trail, and placards educate visitors regarding its purpose.
The Fox Den Trail intersection signals the beginning of a slight uphill leading all the way to the high points of Bobcat Ridge, with large boulders throughout. The Round Swamps Brook runs parallel to the trail until slightly after Fox Ridge. The trail twists and curves, using switchbacks over a series of low ridges, and low-lying areas, eventually crossing the Batson River. I ran into a healthy mix of mountain bikers, dog walkers, and trail runners throughout the hike. The birds were quiet for the most part, but I finally heard some chickadees and sparrows about 2 1/2 miles down the Steele Trail. Slightly after a small bridge crossing the Batson River for the second time, I reached the intersection of the Bobcat Ridge Extension Trail. This area can look confusing on the map, but stay straight to tackle the Bobcat Ridge Extension, or left to continue on the Steele Trail (right leads to private property).
The Bobcat Ridge Trail leads past well-named points like “Lichen Ledge”, which likely serve as rallying points for mountain bikers (the trails are, in fact, marked with ski symbols for difficulty). As a hiker, I didn’t have any issues with the bikers – they were universally audible and courteous. The Trolley Trail was a bit flooded, and a kitschy Christmas tree sat in front of a bench at one point of the trail, but this, along with the drone of a single-engine plane and the blast of a foghorn, was one of the few signs of civilization on the forested trail, located in an otherwise populous area of southeastern Maine. I finished the hike refreshed, returning to a full parking lot.