HARPSWELL – The town of Harpswell encompasses 216 miles of coastline, some of the longest stretch of water views in the state. It also boasts more than 100 islands, some tiny enough to be lost at high tide and others near enough to shore that these slivers of land seem part of the mainland.

But what is remarkable in this finger-land of peninsulas and ocean air is the large chunks of protected land. And the townspeople want you to visit.

“I don’t know if the trail head parking lots would ever fill up, but people could always just park on the side of the road,” said Ron Davis, a board member at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust and a piano tuner in town.

Many know Harpswell for Bailey Island and Cook’s Lobster House, where the Casco Bay Ferry Lines dock every day during the summer.

Less than an hour from Portland, Harpswell is a coastal town with more than 10 miles of hidden trails certain to make an urban hiker feel far away. And this summer, the townspeople are trying to bring in more visitors and tourists.

Last month, the town of Harpswell, along with the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, published a free brochure filled with the town’s trails to distribute to local restaurants, inns and stores. Harpswell recreation director Gina Perow also created an online version that can be downloaded to iPads, Nooks and Kindles.

A grant for $467 from the local Access Health fund paid for the first 1,500 guides. The town and local businesses kicked in the money for another 3,000 guides, Perow said.

The idea behind the collaborative welcome is to lure business to Harpswell by making these special but tough-to-find ocean preserves a snap to locate.

“You’re never far from the water here, but it’s spread out. There used to be four post offices servicing the islands. Now there are three,” said Don Miskill, the town’s former recreation director, now one of its most active volunteers.

The “Harpswell Guide” directs visitors to the town-owned, 2.3-mile Cliff Trail, where a woodland path leads to a serene and dramatic cliff drop that sits high above the skinny, saltwater channel of Long Reach.

It also lists the jointly owned Giant’s Stairs trail on Bailey Island, where the shorter (1.2-mile) and vastly more popular trail just celebrated its 100th birthday in 2010. This is a tourist spot where the “water views” noted in the guide don’t tell the half of it.

This ocean walk provides an Acadia-style, ocean-front experience without the three-hour drive up the coast.

Also among Harpswell’s two dozen trails, preserves and parks, the ocean walk at the Devil’s Back Trail on Orr’s Island provides a Downeast view to the emerald green Long Cove.

Since it was formed in 1983, the Trust has preserved more than 256 acres on 11 preserves, and about 1,000 acres through conservation easements.

The town also owns several plots of protected land, chiefly Devil’s Back and Mitchell Field, where dirt trails, ball fields and a beach draw locals.

All of it is open to the public with easy access. And perhaps soon to be better known.

“We held our hiking challenge (in May) for the third year. We got back 90 fliers. And there were quite a few license plates at the trails from out of state, from Virginia and South Carolina and New Brunswick. That day the bike racks at Mitchell Field were full,” Perow said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: Flemingpph


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