Exploring BTLT’s Newest Conservation Success

View of the Cathance River from the newly conserved Tardiff Property.

The Tardiff Property in Topsham will soon provide diverse recreational resources to the public.

By Susan Olcott

This season, I am thankful for places that are wild and muddy. And, there’s a place just outside of town that will soon be open to the public that fits that bill – a rare combination of wetlands, rivers, forest, and even vernal pools. It is home to unusual species such as the Least Bittern and Parker’s Pipewort. Timber was cut there for many years and a 19th century farmhouse looks over it all. And, on a crisp November morning, my girls and I had a rare opportunity to explore it with Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s (BTLT) Executive Director, Angela Twitchell.

The first frost glistened on crisp leaves crunching under foot and tiny stalagmites of ice poked up from the mud around frozen pools at the base of uprooted trees. We clambered over an old road down to the shores of the river to squish on low tide mud and discover bubbles trapped in windows of ice jaggedly arranged amidst the marsh grasses.

So, where is this? You may not have heard of the Muddy River before, but you are more likely to be familiar with the Cathance River. The Cathance runs through a stellar series of trails managed by BTLT and the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). Nestled between the Cathance and the Muddy Rivers is a parcel of land in Topsham that has been privately owned for years by the Tardiff family.

The family lived in a historic home on the property and when surrounding lands began to be developed into neighborhoods, they started thinking about ways to keep their land free from development. This led them to BTLT, which has been working to conserve areas around the Cathance River for years. The Land Trust has been slowly building a network of 20 properties along the river, now totaling over 1,000 acres. These properties provide wildlife corridors and an important natural buffer to keep clean the rivers that flow into Merrymeeting Bay. The Tardiff property helps to provide a critical missing connection between two Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife properties – the Merrymeeting Bay Wildlife Management Area and the Muddy River Wildlife Management Area.

Exploring at Tardiff.

When the Tardiff Family offered to sell the 121-acre parcel to BTLT, the Land Trust was thrilled to have this opportunity. With the support of grants from Maine’s Natural Resource Conservation Program and the Merrymeeting Bay Trust, BTLT completed the purchase this fall.

As we walked down the old woods road, we began to envision how the property might be used. Perhaps a loop trail stemming from a parking area off Route 24 could lead visitors across the old farm fields, into the woods, and along the shores of the Cathance. But, this is only half the property – on the other side of the road, there could be a similar set of trails leading to the Muddy River. What a neat opportunity to explore two rivers across a historic piece of farmland.

We were lucky to get a sneak peak at the property, but it won’t be too long before it will be accessible to the public. BTLT will be working over the next year and a half or so, aiming to have trails ready for exploration in the Spring of 2019. In the meantime, this coming Spring I plan to visit it again by water, as Angela described you could do by kayak starting at the Head of Tide property, passing the Tardiff land, and ending at the Bowdoinham Town Landing. In the meantime, I am thankful for the opportunity to imagine how this property will take shape and become another jewel in the crown of protected lands around Merrymeeting Bay.