Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, also known as Center Pond Preserve, is located in Phippsburg and maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust. Cooley Preserve, known for its bird habitat and wildflowers, contains 253 acres of woods, ledges, a beaver pond turned into a marsh, and the shoreline of Center Pond. A friend and I explored the trails on a cold but sunny late November day. The trailhead off Parker House Road is just south of a narrow neck between Center Pond and the Kennebec River, directly across the river from Squirrel Point light. The parking area has a sign-in notebook, with space for trail brochures (none when we visited), and a sign lists access to McKay Farm Preserve via the South Perimeter Trail. Online, the brochure notes that the Preserve is named for Mrs. Eleanor Cooley, from whom Phippsburg Land Trust acquired this, its first property, in 1995.
Atop the trail guide box was a laminated version of the only map of the Preserve’s trails that I’ve seen, which is incomplete (no link to McKay Farm can be found off the South Perimeter Trail, and other new trails are not listed), and not aligned with north at the top like a traditional map. A sign encouraged hikers to wear blaze orange, which we took to heart on this late November day, the last day of deer hunting season. We navigated using the guide box map, as well as the AllTrails application and dead reckoning. Combining the Drummond Loop, Andy’s Way (signed, but not on the map), Schoolhouse Trail, Elbow Hill Trail, Perimeter Trail South, and Perimeter Trail North, we cobbled together a loop around the perimeter of the Preserve totaling about 5.5 miles.
This easy hike took us a little over two hours, with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the various viewpoints. Near the trailhead, there are petroglyphs, or rock carvings, which you can find for yourself by following purple blazes or read about on Phippsburg Land Trust’s site (we are more aligned with a Leave No Trace philosophy, and these definitely aren’t our thing). The Drummond Loop led uphill from the parking area, then downhill to a left turn to pick up the loop. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a new sign for Andy’s Way, a blazed trail leading southeast, and followed this path over mixed forest, past tall ledges, until it reached the Schoolhouse Trail. There were vestiges of the farmland this used to be, with stone walls, and old barbed wire growing slowly back into the landscape.
We turned left again on the Schoolhouse Trail, and eventually crossed Elbow Hill Road, up to the small loop overlooking Mill Pond and the Kennebec, a height of land which was anonymously donated to Phippsburg Land Trust in 2009. We then doubled back down the Schoolhouse Trail, a wide, mossy former woods road, until reaching the Perimeter Trail South, where we turned left, headed toward the southern end of the Preserve. The link to the McKay Farm Preserve trails are at this southern end, but we bypassed this trail, not having any map or sense of their direction. A map on the Phippsburg Land Trust site lists the distance of the McKay Farm Preserve Trail as 4.8 miles round-trip from the Cooley parking lot, and currently only accessible through Cooley Center Pond Preserve.
The Perimeter Trail South continues north through a low-lying swampy area, coalescing into a wider stream bounding the west side of the Preserve, as it leads toward Center Pond. Along this stretch, the forest was surprisingly green for late November, with many ferns and other flora maintaining their verdant colors. On the broad, shallow pond, we saw common eider ducks making slow black-and-white turns on the icy water, with the wave movements making tinkling sounds of the ice collecting near the shoreline.
We briefly picked up the Drummond Trail, which encircles the beaver pond, then doubled back onto the Perimeter Trail North, which led to a small point of land facing south onto Center Pond. As the trail followed the shoreline, it began to climb the ledges at the northern end of the pond, with some steep climbing. Then we moved inland, through a series of high ledges, back to the Drummond Trail, and the parking area. We did not encounter anyone else on the trails, and while visible houses and road noise sometimes punctuated the hike, there were long stretches in which one would have no idea that they were that close to civilization.