SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — As Joe Anderson looked from his map to the forested hill where a small group had hiked to Wednesday, the idea of a future trail interconnecting three preserves suddenly seemed possible. And during this quiet winter walkabout Anderson suddenly grew excited and addressed the group.
“You could go a long way, deeper into the woods or along the river,” said Anderson, stewardship director of the York Land Trust. “We probably couldn’t do this ourselves. But with two other groups it’s possible.”
To his left, Great Works Regional Land Trust outreach coordinator Brenna Crothers nodded.
“That’s over 200 protected acres. It’s a lot of land,” she said.
The hike was organized by the Great Works Land Trust across one of its newer preserves, Kimball Farm North in South Berwick. The 37-acre parcel was acquired three years ago. The trails here have yet to be finished, but the preserve has become the catalyst for a larger trail network that would join the two preserves next to it, said Darrell DeTour, the Great Works stewardship director.
Not a quarter-mile down the road sits the 175-acre Hilton-Winn Preserve owned by the York Land Trust. That could connect to Great Works’ Kimball Farm North Preserve using a trail of three to four miles extending from the road over the Ogunquit River, Anderson said.
But there is also another intriguing option.
Between those preserves sits 48-acre Hilton-Winn Farm, where owner Nancy Breen runs the Youth Enrichment Program, an outdoor education center. The students Breen teaches work on her farm, and also help to build trails across her land.
Breen said the vision of a larger trail network excites her.
“It’s so nice in this built-up area to have places that are preserved and so close to developments. I really believe in what they’re doing. They are going at this 100 percent,” Breen said. “The more land you can walk and explore, the more you can enjoy nature.”
Hilton-Winn Farm, which dates to the 1600s, remains working farmland thanks to the vision of former owner Ethel Hilton, the ninth generation of the Hilton-Winn family. In 1990 Hilton created an easement on the land protecting it from development. Then in 1998 Hilton donated 175 acres to the York Land Trust to form the Hilton-Winn Preserve.
This swath of woodland is full of cultural history in the form of cellar holes, old foundations, cemeteries, quarries and Hilton Lane, a rural road from 1785 that was one of the first dedicated by the town of Wells, Anderson said.
It’s a place where Anderson envisions a historic woodland walking tour one day.
“It’s neat to think this path here was one of the old American pathways,” Anderson said.
When DeTour led the rugged tour of the Great Works’ newest parcel near the Ogunquit River, it was to show a half-dozen land trust members this future public retreat.
Parking is an issue as there is no lot at the Kimball Farm North Preserve. But once the lack of parking space is solved and the trails connecting the three parcels are built, DeTour said it will be possible for many people to come get lost in 200 acres of woods and fields just 10 minutes from downtown Ogunquit.
When Great Works considered buying the 37-acre parcel, DeTour said, it was because it offers such an ecologically rich habitat, with uplands, woodlands, enormous boulders and wetlands that are home to salamanders, snakes, turtles and small mammals.
But the idea of the bigger trail network was appealing as well, he said with a smile.
For those on the hike, the idea of a roughly mile-and-a-half trail suddenly becoming part of a larger network that will soon reach across the Tatnic Brook and Ogunquit River was like an unexpected gift.
“I am a landscape photographer and I’ve been on the Hilton-Winn Preserve to photograph the river,” said Tom Gilmore of North Berwick.
“It’s beautiful. I can see the possibility here, the serpentine nature of the brook, and those glacial erratics.”