Hiking in Maine: Crystal Spring Farm highlights successes of land trust
Owned and managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, the site offers nearly 5 miles of pleasant foot trails winding through the forests and fields.
By Carey Kish – veteran hiker and freelance writer
Tucked away in a quiet wooded corner of Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick is a beautiful stone labyrinth. Not a maze but rather a single winding route through a series of concentric rings, the path is meant “to be walked deliberately,” according to a sign near the circle’s entrance. Three granite slab benches at the labyrinth’s center invite visitors to relax and reflect.
The “Labyrinth in the Woods” is just one of the many wonderful highlights of Crystal Spring Farm, a 331-acre parcel located just 1 1/2 miles south of downtown Brunswick. Owned and managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, nearly 5 miles of pleasant foot trails wind through the forests and fields of this ecologically rich property.
In 1994, when it became known that 160 acres of working farmland on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road were about to go up for sale, the fledgling land trust, just 9 years old at the time, took notice. The landowners hoped to keep the property in agriculture, and the land trust saw this as a golden opportunity to establish a great community resource.
The prevailing sentiment was “how can we not do this?” said Angela Twitchell, executive director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. And with that, the project moved forward and the work of garnering public support and raising the necessary funds began. The land was eventually acquired in 1998, but by then, the land trust already had its eye on the adjoining 160 acres on the north side of the road.
“We worked out another deal with the owners to buy the additional land over time,” Twitchell noted. Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust embarked on another capital campaign, and with a boost from a Land for Maine’s Future grant, the purchase was completed in 2008. Since then, several smaller parcels have been added to “complete what was a bit of a puzzle.”
Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s mission is to protect and steward the special places across the communities of Brunswick, Topsham and Bowdoin, to provide recreational opportunities, connect people to nature, and support local agriculture and fisheries. The acquisition of Crystal Spring Farm, considered the Trust’s signature property, checked all of these boxes.
“There was great community affection for this property from the start,” Twitchell said. Input from public meetings helped shape how the land trust would manage the land. With active agriculture a high priority, a farmer was found to run the farm and a farmer’s market was established. Ad hoc trails existed but a more formal network would take some work.
On the south side of Pleasant Hill Road, the trails were constructed in the 1990s. The East Trail leaves the main trailhead and heads for a junction at the property boundary. Here, the Quarry Trail breaks away to the west to visit the site of an old quarry and brings you in view of a solar array erected in 2016 that generates electricity for the farm.
Continuing on the East Trail, the path skirts the farm fields and swings around a lovely little pond before crossing Great Gully Stream. Past the short Ravine Trail loop, the East Trail meets the Blueberry Loop, which makes a nice circuit through a rare sandplain grassland where 21 acres of managed lowbush blueberry barrens are available to the public for berry picking.
The trails on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road were laid out and built in the 2000s by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and a cadre of volunteers. The primary route through the mixed woods is the Main Loop, which is intersected by seven connector trails that allow you to shorten your hike or explore further as you desire. The Garden Trail is not to be missed, as it visits the aforementioned labyrinth as well as the community garden, which was established 10 years ago to grow food for a local hunger prevention program.
Since its start in 1985, the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has conserved 3,148 acres over approximately 60 properties; about one-third of the acreage is owned outright while the remainder is protected through conservation easements. All told, there are well over 20 miles of hiking trails to be enjoyed, so grab your walking shoes and day pack and come take good a look around.