“Connect to past and present at the Cathance River Nature Preserve”
By Jane Olsen (The Bowdoin Orient)
A visit to the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham will allow you to consider the past, the future and how to stay grounded in the present. Only a 10-minute drive from campus, the preserve features miles of riverside trails winding through growing forests. It is unlikely you will cross paths with many others.
When following the directions to the trailhead, you may be confused as to why you’re being guided through the Highlands Retirement Community. At first, I thought I was going to the wrong place because the trailhead is easy to miss and the adjacent parking lot only fits about five cars (if squeezed in at an angle to the road). But the waves of Highlands residents on their daily walks are a reminder that a sense of community extends beyond the spaces of Bowdoin’s physical campus.
The Preserve offers enough trails to explore for hours, but it is equally beautiful if you only have a few minutes to spare. This visit, I decided to walk down the staircase next to the parking lot and continue until I reached the Highland trail, passing through the vernal pools.
From this point, the path to the river is no more than 10 minutes. After a semester of shuffling my feet on the ice across campus, stepping over small patches of mud was a welcome surprise. As I moved closer to the river, an abundance of green moss on the forest floor creeped up on me.
The light flickered brighter in the areas where young saplings have yet to grow, and in areas with white pines thick with age, only a few sunbeams pass through their needles. This forest is not uniform and the path is not straight—mimicking the collision of many generations.
After scanning a QR code posted on one of the saplings, I realize that the code is one of many scattered throughout the trails of the Preserve. The codes are a part of a “Self-Guided Adventure” initiative by the Cathance River Education Alliance, a nonprofit environmental and educational organization. Walking down the trail, this network of codes invites me to pay attention to my surroundings and reminds me of the Alliance’s efforts to further community engagement.
One QR code attributes the diversity of tree ages in the forest to a scattered timeline of logging on the land, explaining that the younger saplings were planted after the most recent logging efforts in the 1990s. The history of logging in Maine seems inextricable from our natural surroundings, reminding visitors to admire and support the conservation efforts from organizations like the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.
These woods offer physical distance from a busy life and a chance to appreciate connections across generations, whether that be ecologically or socially. When I arrive at the river, the faint sound of the gentle water and a soothing canopy of shade returns me to the present moment. As I watch the swell of the current beside me and after stepping away from a campus buzzing with youth and driving through a community of senior citizens, my sense of place is amplified.
This week, I saw the faces of my professors for the first time since arriving at Bowdoin last year. After two semesters without upperclass students on campus and the presence of Covid-19 constantly on my mind, I have longed for a sense of cross-generational cohesion in the Bowdoin community. With an ease of connection returning to campus, the links that bring us together feel stronger. The Cathance River Nature Preserve offers a chance to explore this sense of interrelation, or to simply enjoy the outdoors.