Cooley Preserve at Center Pond (Phippsburg, ME)

Tree overlooking Center Pond, Cooley Preserve at Center Pond, Phippsburg, ME

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.

Trail map at Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

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.

AllTrails map of route taken through Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

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.

View from Elbow Hill, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

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.

Center Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

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.

Beaver Pond, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

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.

Ledges, Cooley Center Pond Preserve, Phippsburg, ME

Sprague Pond Loop Trail, Basin Preserve (Phippsburg, ME)

Seam of green moss surrounding stream, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
The Sprague Pond Loop Trail through the Basin Preserve in Phippsburg, ME, is a quiet hike through diverse coastal woodland.  The Basin Preserve consists of over 1800 acres in Phippsburg, Maine, from land donated anonymously to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2006, and adjoins the Sprague Pond Preserve, maintained by the Phippsburg Land Trust. Trail maps of this rolling hike, featuring ridges, mixed hardwood, coastal pitch pine woodland, shrub marsh, and a 10-acre spring-fed pond, are available for download on the TNC website.
Ridge covered in sunlight and blueberry plants, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
On a warm spring day, we took the Loop Trail, from the Burnt Ledge Loop trailhead on Basin Road and a portion of the Meditation Trail along Sprague Pond for a 5.8 mile loop (appx 2.5 hrs). Basin Road is closed for winter maintenance until April 15th, and trails (open sunrise to sunset) can also be accessed from the Sprague Pond Preserve trailhead on Route 209.
Spring runoff in wooded stream, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
Take time at the Basin Road trailhead to read the sign next to the fenced-in area opposite the trail, where TNC and the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation maintain a seed orchard, where they are attempting to a produce a blight-resistant chestnut adapted to Maine’s climate. The Sprague Pond Loop Trail is a lollipop loop that divides at Burnt Ledge, and we chose the counter-clockwise loop, heading first down the western side of the trail.
Rocky terrain and mixed vegetation, Basin Preserve, Phippsburg, ME
This well-marked path, covered in pine needles, winds up and down small ridges, which are covered in blueberry plants.  Despite the recent rains and swollen streams due to snow melt, the trails were dry and well-maintained.  A few fallen trees made for brief scrambles/detours, but this was the exception, rather than the rule.
Canada geese, south end of Sprague Pond, Phippsburg, ME
We saw and heard songbirds and squirrels throughout the hike, but the animal life peaked at Sprague Pond, where we saw mallard ducks, a great blue heron, Canada geese, a circling bird of prey (unidentified), and a garter snake enjoying the sunny Meditation Trail. Shortly after the pond, a beaver dam and lodge were visible, and a spring torrent fed a rocky waterfall next to the trail.
Waterfall near Sprague Pond, Phippsburg, ME
After the waterfall, the eastern side of the loop was primarily a mixed hardwood forest, open and light-filled, with desiccated beech leaves rattling in the wind, chattering squirrels and silent birches awaiting spring.  This serene coastal woodland preserve offers a nearly six mile uninterrupted walk through pines, moss, blueberries, and birdsong.  

(Note: no pets or bikes are allowed on the trail)