Parking at Cathance River Nature Preserve

The status of Hiker Parking at Cathance River Nature Preserve remains in flux due to active development in the vicinity.  We will try to post updates as things change.

Please note that Ecology Center parking will be closed for paving at some points in the coming week (April 22-29), most likely on Tuesday.

Please respect roped off areas – cars will be towed by the contractor! No parking is allowed along the roads of Highland Green.

So what to do if you were hoping for a nice hike along the Cathance? We encourage you to use the parking at Head of Tide Park, which is plentiful and easy to access along the Cathance Road in Topsham.

Head of Tide Park is a just 1.4 mile hike from CRNP. From the Park, the Cathance River Trail (click for trailmap) snakes along the river and through its uplands, providing views of the pristine river and its undisturbed natural surroundings. The trail leads to the impressive 60-foot aluminum Clay Brook pedestrian bridge which was locally designed and fabricated and provides a trail connection to CRNP. Click HERE to read more about how this great trail connection was made possible.

Another option is to park at the golf clubhouse at Highland Green and walk on the sidewalk to trails. It is about half a mile to the golf cart path across from Sparrow Drive, which provides access to the Heath Trail. It is about ¾ mile to the trailhead at the Ecology Center.

Happy hiking!

Portland Press Herald: It’s Worth the Trip: Cathance River Preserve provides the perfect getaway


It’s Worth the Trip: Cathance River Preserve provides the perfect getaway

A hike in Topsham is a splendid way to spend time in the fall.

In his forthcoming book “The Stranger in the Woods,” Michael Finkel tells the story of Christopher Knight, the hermit who lived undetected in the woods near North Pond for nearly three decades. Reading the book, I was struck most by how Knight managed to disappear so completely while living only yards from the cabins that ring the pond. He was so close to others, Finkel writes, that he couldn’t even sneeze for fear of drawing attention.

The book reminded me how easy it is to separate yourself from the hustle and bustle of other people in Maine, where thick wilderness is often only yards from well-traveled roads and populated areas. I got the same reminder this week while hiking in the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham.

The 230-acre preserve, tucked between Interstate 295 and a retirement community, is a wonderful escape in a fairly developed stretch of the Midcoast.

Access is possible via two trailheads on Topsham’s Evergreen Circle, as well as a connector trail on the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Cathance River Trail. To reach the main trailhead, enter the Highland Green development (marked by a large sign and white fencing) from Route 196 in Topsham. Follow the main road through the development for a mile and a half, passing the suburban retirement homes of the community, as well as a few holes on the nine-hole Highland Green Golf Club. Just beyond Junco Drive, you’ll see a wooden staircase and signs marking the entrance to the Cathance River Nature Preserve. Beside it are nine angled parking spaces for hikers.

The trails cover nearly six miles, winding through mixed hardwood forest alongside the Cathance River. Two longer main trails – the riverfront Cathance River Trail and upland Highland Trail – run in rough parallel for much of the length of the preserve, with a number of shorter yellow-blazed trails connecting the two. These short spurs mean that hikers can go from less than a mile to nearly six.

From the staircase alongside Evergreen Circle, it’s a short hike along a well-trod road to reach the Cathance River Education Alliance Ecology Center, the center of the preserve. Completed a decade ago, the center is described by the alliance as a “building that teaches,” with over a dozen green, sustainable features. It’s open every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.

Turning left at the building, the development of Highland Green quickly fades away. After passing a large vernal pool just south of the ecology center, the Highland Trail slopes gently downward toward the northwest corner of the preserve. Here it meets the head of the Cathance River Trail. A sharp right puts hikers beside the Cathance River, which churns east toward the Androscoggin.

During spring runoff, there are challenging rapids for kayakers wishing to run the Cathance (and you can see these adventurers from the trail). But in this relatively dry fall, the river is but a picturesque trickle.

The trail runs alongside the river for about a mile, gently rising to scenic rock outcrops before falling back toward the riverbed. On the right, the Barnes Leap, Beaver and Rapids trails spurs connect back to the Highland Trail, giving weary hikers a chance to cut short their loop and head back toward the ecology center. Beyond the turn to the Rapids Trail, the Cathance River Trail leaves the riverside and reconnects with the Highland Trail.

From the trail junction, a right brings hikers back toward the trailhead, completing a loop. Following the white blazes to the left connects to the half-mile Ravine Trail. At the Clay Brook Bridge, the Preserve ends, though hikers can continue along a Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust trail, ending after two miles at a trailhead on Cathance Road.

In addition to this large network of trails, the Heath Trail (also part of the Cathance River Nature Preserve) circles the 30-acre Heath Sanctuary within Highland Green. The trailhead is on Evergreen Circle, opposite the hiker parking spaces.

Foliage is passing peak but vibrant colors still line the sides of the trail. Many of these colorful leaves have started to fall from the trees, so keep your eyes open for the many trail blazes – a carpet of fallen foliage can make spotting the rutted trails a challenge.

Don’t let the development at the Topsham Mall and Highland Green deceive you – there’s great fall hiking to be found nearby. With just a little effort, you can disappear into the calm and beauty of the Maine woods.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:


Times Record: Stewardship, volunteering contributing to healthy trails

Stewardship, volunteering contributing to healthy trails


Times Record Staff

Irene Syphers spends most of her days deep in the woods, shovel or pick ax in hand, the current trail work project on her mind.

Though she has put in many hours of hard work this summer, she doesn’t want her work to be noticeable. Syphers said that trail work is meant to uphold the natural beauty of the land, while making access easy and presentable.

“I don’t want people even knowing I’ve been here,” said Syphers, who is in the midst of a 10-week summer steward internship with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that oversees the upkeep of hiking trails in the southern Midcoast. “But if you do see me, I’ll put you to work,”

Syphers recently was building a water bar at Skofield Preserve in Brunswick near Middle Bay salt marsh on Tuesday. Syphers said the water bar would help transfer water across the trail so it doesn’t flood.

Program coordinator Caroline Eliot said stewards like Syphers promotes the growth of their volunteer program.

“Irene is great about mobilizing any resources she gets,” said Eliot, who brings in volunteer stewards to assist with projects.

Some common volunteer stewards include Apogee Adventures youth, made up of kids aged 11-14. There are also high schoolers who want to serve the community, Bowdoin College students and retirees who sign up online. BTLT also shares summer stewards with Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, a relationship that Eliot champions.

“I think it’s a really effective way of sharing resources,” said Eliot. “This is the fifth or sixth year we’ve been working with them. There’s a lot of partnering going on between non-profits these days.”

Byron Scheudt, a steward at KELT, was on hand to assist Syphers in water bar construction on Tuesday.

“This is the first time I’ve done work with (BTLT),” said Scheudt. “We like to help out (BTLT) any way we can, even if it’s lending each other tools.”

Another large trail project is taking place at Chase Reserve on Bunganuc Road in Brunswick, a 194-acre easement property.

“It’s a backwoods trail with a lot of deer, moose and other animals,” said Syphers. “We’re using a grip hoist to take down a big blow-down there tomorrow.”

Additionally, Syphers spent a day putting up signs at Chase Reserve last week, and spends “copious amounts of hours assessing the trails there.”

“Every project takes a lot of work,” said Syphers. “You spend hours before the project emailing and coordinating, gather your materials, carry everything out to the site. A project that takes a day in the field actually takes two days. That’s why more volunteers are great. I can’t move all of this stuff myself.”

But with projects like the Chase Reserve, BTLT is starting to see the fruits of its labor.

“It’s rewarding to get a piece of land that has nothing and transform it, watch the people show up,” said Eliot. “Since Chase Reserve is an easement property it adds a whole different layer.”

Eliot said that BTLT owns most of their land outright, but easement properties allow them to work with the landowners to make sure they’re aware of all changes.

“There’s a wonderful landowner at Chase who is great to work with,” said Eliot. “There are a lot of dimensions to this that people don’t see.”

And though Syphers said that her best work blends in with nature, she does stop to admire her achievements every now and then.

“It’s very satisfying to build a bog bridge and walk across it for the first time,” Syphers said.



Click here to read a recent Time Record article about the Land Trust's stewardship efforts.

Click here to read a recent Time Record article about the Land Trust’s stewardship efforts.

Over the past three decades, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has conserved over 2,400 acres of the most productive and diverse lands in the region. Each conservation project comes with a deep and permanent responsibility to monitor and care for, or steward, the land forever.

With thousands of acres of farm, forest, and wetland, seventeen miles of trail, a Farmers’ Market, Community Garden, and Labyrinth to manage, the  Land Trust’s stewardship work is diverse.

The Land Trust is increasing efforts to engage the community in a variety of ways to build support for this stewardship work which is so vital to the future ecological, economic, and social health of the community.

“We have to maintain a very active presence on our conservation properties to ensure their values are maintained over time – for outdoor recreation, traditional land uses like farming and forestry, scenic views, plant and animal habitat, water quality protection, and much more,” says Land Trust Associate Director Caroline Eliot.

“Every land owner knows that things change over time.  Neighbors and surrounding land uses can change, and how the public uses our properties changes too.  Sometimes these changes bring challenges that require an immediate response. It’s important to demonstrate that we’re paying attention to every property we own or steward.”

The Land Trust’s stewardship program is strong and robust, and it continues to build on past successes, even as the demands of stewarding local lands increase for this small non-profit.

Since 2009, the number of properties managed by the Land Trust has more than doubled.

All of its fifty-two protected properties must be visited at least once a year for monitoring. This work is done primarily by volunteers, but training, coordinating, and supporting these dedicated stewards takes considerable effort.

Quite a few of the Land Trust’s conservation properties are privately–owned and protected from development by deed restrictions called ‘conservation easements.’  Easements identify the property’s special values, such as habitat, open space, scenic qualities, watershed protection, and others, then state which activities are allowed and which are not allowed so that the unique qualities of the place will last. The Land Trust must inspect easement properties annually to ensure the terms of the easement are being met. When issues are found, such as an activity that is not consistent with the intent or terms of the  easement, the staff must work with the landowner to resolve the issue. Most issues are inadvertent and result from misunderstanding or forgetting about specific easement terms.  The vast majority of issues are resolved amicably, but this work takes time. Similarly, like any other property, easement-protected land periodically changes owners – requiring an investment of time by the Land Trust in  establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the new owners, many of whom are unfamiliar with the responsibilities and limitations associated with conservation easements.

While easements require regular attention, in a typical year, it is the Land Trust’s public access properties that need the most care. As the region grows more popular, community members and visitors are increasingly aware of the many places the Land Trust makes available for recreation. As a result, trails are experiencing much higher levels of use. Many of the Land Trust’s seventeen miles of trail were built in the early 2000s. The infrastructure along these trails, and sometimes the trails themselves, now require replacement or major refurbishment.

“While we hope visitors see a trail that looks and feels like it needs little or no maintenance,” says Land Trust Executive Director Angela Twitchell, “In fact, keeping trails safe and beautiful requires constant effort – clearing blowdowns, clipping branches, protecting waterways from siltation, maintaining signs and blazes, and addressing issues such as unauthorized vehicles and uses.”

In the past, with fewer overall miles and much newer trails, trail maintenance was managed by a few volunteers – mostly Board Members of the Land Trust.  More recently, with trail maintenance needs growing and the public’s expectations of trail conditions increasing, the Land Trust has had to add dedicated stewardship staff and more actively recruit, train, and coordinate stewardship volunteers.

Eliot points to a new program as an example. “We started a trail monitoring program in 2015 and have a great crop of dedicated trail monitors who serve as our eyes and ears on the ground,” says Eliot.

“We also have a small but committed group of trail workers, mostly retired folks who love to be outdoors. They bring wonderful skills to our work, but we always need strong young volunteers to help as well. One of our biggest challenges is finding strong young people to help with moving materials such as stone and timbers into the trails.”

“In my opinion, the Land Trust’s trails are some of the most outstanding features of our community,” says volunteer trail steward Wayne Whitney.

He explains his dedication to the work in this way: “I spend hot, sometimes buggy summer days doing this work because I like being in the woods getting healthy physical exercise. I get to work with caring people who share a common vision, and I believe we’re doing something worthwhile. I want future generations to have the same opportunity – both to volunteer and to enjoy these trails.”

In recent years the growing need for regular trail maintenance and trail refurbishment due to increased foot traffic, in addition to opportunities to build new trails on recently protected properties has made an all-volunteer force infeasible.

“We need to have people who can respond immediately to an issue, for example, if there’s a safety issue on a trail or a high-impact, unauthorized use. And we need people who can put in long hours building or refurbishing major sections of trail,” says Eliot.

“We currently have between 1.2 and 1.4 FTE staff working in stewardship, including a summer intern and other seasonal paid stewardship help. We’ll need at least this much staff time for stewardship, though likely more, in the coming years.”

The Land Trust also dedicates staff time to community and youth education in an effort to build support for stewardship. “I believe engaging the public in the care of our community’s special places is a key part of stewardship, explains Land Trust Outreach and Education Coordinator Nikkilee Cataldo.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to connect with nature, and caring for this public resource – our trails – is a particularly nice way to do this. We also want  to give children the opportunity to experience the wonder of the natural world. We want to cultivate in them at least a familiarity with, and hopefully  a deep connection to these lands. This connection should enhance their  personal wellbeing and help them  value the natural world so they’ll grow up to be engaged and compassionate community members.”

Toward that end, the Land Trust runs over fifty educational events each year, and established its Young Explorers program to get young families outdoors and familiar with the natural features of our region.

Looking to the future, stewardship work will consume a larger proportion of the Land Trust’s limited resources as the amount of conserved land grows and maintenance needs increase. To be prepared for these stewardship demands, the Land Trust is making a concerted effort to raise awareness of, and funds for, its all-important stewardship work. Its recently completed comprehensive capital campaign established the Land Trust’s first stewardship endowment, and the ongoing Raffle for Stewardship is helping the Land Trust raise funds for that endowment and engage community members in conversations about the need for ongoing stewardship support.

Each raffle ticket sold for the beautiful, locally hand-built Night Heron Kayak helps support the Land Trust’s stewardship program and is a great opportunity for supporters to win an amazing boat. The boat is on display each week at the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm, and tickets can be purchased at www.btlt.org/kayak.

More than anything, the Land Trust wants community members to get out on its beautiful trails, enjoy its public programs, and understand the value of conserved lands (easements) that are not accessible to the public – such as working farms, secluded forested habitat, wetlands, and watershed land. All these lands make the community an amazing place to live and visit – adding incalculable additional value to the community. Stewarding the land is the ‘forever’ but often forgotten part of conservation. But Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is working hard to raise the visibility of and support for this work.

Trail Steward Wayne Whitney sums up the effort in his own words, “My vision is that a century from now people will experience the same sense of well-being, happiness, and serenity I feel when using our trails.  That’s why stewardship is so important to me.”

Brunswick Outdoors is HERE

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is excited to announce the release of Brunswick Outdoors, a guide to the wealth of public parks, recreation areas, land trust preserves, and private conservation lands Brunswick offers residents and visitors. Many locations have trails or provide access to fresh and salt water that are open for respectful public use.

Created in partnership with the Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department, Brunswick Outdoors includes over 50 identified locations and brief descriptions that guide visitors to hiking, birding, boating, swimming, skating and other recreational resources. The map is free and available at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust offices, the Land Trust’s Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick Parks and Recreation Center, and Brunswick Visitor Center. A PDF of Brunswick Outdoors can also be downloaded at www.btlt.org/brunswick-outdoors. It is our hope that Brunswick Outdoors will encourage local citizens and visitors to get outside and enjoy the incredible natural resources available to us in the Brunswick area.

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, established in 1985, has conserved 50 properties totaling 2,500 acres and created much loved community resources including the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm, Tom Settlemire Community Garden, and Labyrinth in the Woods. The Land Trust was one of the first in Maine to receive Land Trust Alliance accreditation, and has become a leader and innovator in developing diverse ways to strengthen the community through conservation, robust partnerships, and dedicated stewardship. To learn more or get involved, please visit us at www.btlt.org!

Where’s Hiker Parking???

If you’re heading to Cathance River Nature Preserve for snowshoeing or skiing this winter, take note of some temporary changes to Preserve parking.

Hiker Parking is moving to accommodate ongoing development.  Access to the east (gravel) side of Evergreen Circle will likely be closed for a couple of months while heavy equipment is working in the area. The Heath Access Trail and Old Quarry Road are also being moved and should no longer be used to access trails.

Until further notice, please park at the Ecology Center Parking (located just past Junco Drive), paying attention to the painted parking spaces to maximize available parking. You can access both the Heath Trail and the Cathance River trails from this location.

Plans are underway to establish a new Hiker Parking as well as new access trails to the Heath and Cathance River trails. Please be respectful of Highland Green residents and ongoing construction while you enjoy the Preserve in winter!

CR in snow 2016

Photo by Ben Williamson

Labyrinth in the Woods is about to become a reality!

While the sight of a bobcat entering the woods of Crystal Spring Farm (CSF) would typically be of interest to wildlife watchers, the motorized Bobcat that will soon enter the CSF woods might alarm some watchers of the land. Fear not! It’s a sign that our Labyrinth in the Woods is about to become a reality!

Site work is expected to begin on Friday, October 30 and continue for several weeks.

In collaboration with First Parish Church of Brunswick, we are building the newest community resource – a labyrinth in a natural setting that is open to all. It will be located a short distance off the Garden Trail, in between the Community Garden and the Main Loop. Nestled in the woods, the 7-circuit labyrinth will occupy a 50-foot diameter circle and be constructed of granite paving stones and natural mulch.

Proposed Labyrinth Location_AerialA labyrinth is not a maze.  Mazes have dead ends and are designed to confuse. Labyrinths offer a single path whose course winds back and forth within the bounds of a circle, ultimately leading to the center. Walking the path of a labyrinth is a longstanding practice of relaxation, prayer, or meditation in many cultures and religions.

Labyrinth at UNE that is similar to the one being built at CSF

Labyrinth at University of New England that is similar to the one being built at CSF

Linkel Construction /Cosmic Stone of Topsham is building our labyrinth. Several years ago, they did a spectacular job of installing Clay Brook bridge on the Cathance River Trail in Topsham, remarkably managing to place a 60-foot long bridge with almost no disturbance to the brook and surrounding forest.

In the coming weeks, visitors who access CSF trails from the Maurice Drive trailhead should use the Garden Trail with extra care, as equipment will be crossing the trail periodically. As always, dogs on the trail are expected to be leashed.

The Labyrinth in the Woods is being built in honor of Susan Fitzgerald, long-time Land Trust supporter and Children’s Education Director at First Parish Church. We are grateful for the partnership that brings this unique addition to our trail system and hope many will take advantage of this new community resource!

Summer Trail Challenge and Photo Contest

Get outside and explore the Southern Midcoast all summer long with chances to win fun prizes!

Walking through the woods, watching for birds, exploring the shoreline, and enjoying Maine’s scenic beauty are great ways to spend summer days! Southern Midcoast Maine offers fantastic hiking, beaches, and beautiful views on many properties managed by local towns and land trusts.

IMG_8654This summer, the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, and Access Health are teaming up to present the 2015 Summer Trail Challenge and Photo Contest. This challenge is free and open to all ages this June through September. Explore new trails, enjoy the outdoors, and enter to win prizes! The more outdoor adventures you have, the more chances you get to win.

For the official challenge and photo contest rules, descriptions of and directions to trails, and list of prizes visit www.btlt.org/summer-trail-challenge

The Summer Trail Challenge is a great way to get your family outdoors this summer and visit new properties. You could find yourself discovering one of the many scenic hiking paths in Bath, exploring a community garden in Brunswick, enjoying stunning coastal scenery in Harpswell, and following one of the wildest rivers in the region in Topsham. Not a bad way to spend the summer!

To participate, pick up a Summer Trail Challenge bingo card from the participating land trusts or at the Recreation Departments in Brunswick, Topsham, Harpswell, or Bath. You can also download the card by visiting www.accesshealthme.org.

When you hike a trail or visit a property listed on the bingo card, punch your card in the designated square. For each square you complete on the card, you will receive oneCathanceKids-e1431398065937-224x300 entry in a raffle drawing for a variety of desirable prizes. If you complete the entire card, you will be entered for the grand prize. Return your card to Access Health by September 7, 2015 to be entered for prizes.

If you submit a photo of yourself and/or your family and friends participating in one of the hikes or activities listed on the card, you will be entered to win a special photo contest prize. Please submit your photo by September 7, 2015 via e-mail to cfuller@midcoasthealth.com.

Cathance Trails Get a Makeover

blazing at BPFStewardship Program Flourishes

Last year, under the leadership of our fantastic volunteer trail supervisor Gary Fogg, a small group comprised of devoted volunteers, the Land Trust’s Bowdoin intern, and our seasonal steward invested hundreds of hours re-routing trails, updating blazes, installing new signs, stabilizing stream crossings, and much more at Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham.

The main goals of this effort were to: (1) simplify the trail system and facilitate longer hikes; (2) connect to an adjacent trail to extend the hiking experience; (3) enhance ecological conditions (i.e., move trails away from wet areas); and (4) reduce ongoing maintenance needs.

While some minor work remains to be done, major changes are complete. You can now follow the Cathance River Trail (white blaze) along almost the entire river frontage. The Cathance River Trail (CRT) takes a jog inland east of the Rapids Trail to avoid low areas prone to spring flooding, but it returns to the river near the Clay Brook bridge, where the CRT continues on adjacent conservation land.

Highland Trail SignThe Highland Trail (blue blaze) journeys through upland sections of the Preserve and can be accessed from Hiker Parking and the Ecology Center. It joins the CRT in two locations and can be used to create a hiking loop. Yellow blazed trails function as connectors that create shorter hiking loops or lead to destinations such as the Class 4 rapids (in spring) and the gorge at Barnes Leap.

In the decade since the trails were created, the forest has reclaimed areas that were harvested some years ago. As you meander through this lovely natural area enjoying cottongrass in the bogs and kingfisher chatter along the river, you would never guess that Topsham’s bustling commercial area is only two miles away! If you haven’t visited the Preserve recently, it’s a great time to get re-acquainted – especially in spring when the rapids are impressive!

Many thanks to recent visitors to the Preserve for your patience while we implemented these changes, particularly changes to trail names and layout. It is virtually impossible to undertake changes to trails without some confusion, but we hope you will find the new trails simple to navigate and lovely to experience!

Trails at Cathance River Nature Preserve – click to view the new trail map

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