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)

Mount Tom (Fryeburg, ME)

In January 2020, I hiked Mount Tom (1,073 ft) via the West Ridge Trail, an approximately 3.5 mile out-and-back from the parking lot for Mount Tom Preserve at Menotomy Road in Fryeburg, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Like Hawk Mountain and Mount Tire’m, which I did earlier the same day, this is a short but rewarding Oxford Hills hike.  This can also be done as an approximately 4-mile loop hike by continuing after the summit to the Mount Tom Trail, then returning south on Menotomy Road, which is usually relatively quiet, to the start point.

Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

This parking lot, and the Preserve, which includes the summit, are maintained by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  TNC’s excellent description of the Preserve follows:

Mt. Tom Preserve protects a silver and red maple floodplain along the Saco River, and includes the rocky summit of Mount Tom at 1,040 feet in elevation. The 995-acre preserve spans the Saco River and boasts over 3,500 feet of river frontage. Several day-use hiking trails provide recreational opportunities, as does as a 1.14 mile seasonal snowmobile trail that is part of a larger network maintained by the Interstate Sno-goers. Visitors can summit Mt. Tom, canoe along the Saco River, or just walk through the beautiful forests!

River terrace forests support clean water for resident native fish, invertebrates, and other animals that use river beaches. The floodplains provide excellent habitat for spotted salamanders and several species of turtles, with a lush understory of sensitive fern and royal fern. Two regionally rare birds–the golden eagle and peregrine falcon–have been regularly sighted near the rocky cliffs of Mt. Tom, during the breeding season. Two rare plants–the fern-leaved false foxglove and smooth sandwort–have also been found within the dry oak-hickory forest on the south facing slope of the mountain, and old eastern red cedars dot the hillside.

View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.
View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.

The West Ridge Trail, marked by white blazes and small TNC emblems, rolls across that floodplain, crossing small brooks, passing ghostly birches and large rock formations, until becoming steep about a mile in.

West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

The trail ascends the ridge, with frequent views through clearings in the trees, to meet the Mount Tom Trail, at which point, it turns right, and shortly thereafter, reaches the summit and its rocky ledges and views.

Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.
Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.

The descent in winter was easy, with microspikes, and I saw several other groups, all with dogs, ascending the trail on my way back.  An added benefit in winter was the lack of bugs, which would be omnipresent in the late spring and early summer in the first portion of the trail.  This hike may be challenging for very young or out-of-condition hikers, but presents an easy to moderate walk in the woods, with views to the south of the Saco River Valley.

West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.