One uncharacteristically hot September day this past week, I was reminded of a couple things.

First, I again was struck by the fact you can find the most delightful surprises in the most unexpected and easily accessed places, and that you can comfortably combine multiple outdoor pleasures all within a few miles of each other.

My surprise was found in North Whitefield, east of Augusta, where the parking lot for the Marr’s Ridge Trail on Hunt’s Meadow Road just 1.5 miles north after turning off Route 126 awaited my arrival.

The Whitefield Trails Committee, with the assistance of landowner Sandy Benne and in partnership with the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, holds an easement on what is known as the Paradise Green property, and the trail was laid out and opened just about a year ago.

You’ll find an info kiosk at the trailhead with a trail map that identifies the two hiking options, because the area is high ground that divides two watersheds of the Kennebec River. The western side drains down to Togus Stream and then to the Kennebec, while the eastern side (where the trails originate) drains to the West Branch of the Eastern River, and then to the Kennebec.

One trail is a 1.6-mile loop that follows a nice pathway up to a surprising overlook atop some ledges where the landowner built a rugged granite tower, complete with a chair in which to take in the view over the Sheepscot River valley to the Camden Hills, with the western flank of Mt. Megunticook looming in the distance.

Turkey vultures nest in a cave in the ledges, and they were riding the thermals on the day that I visited and watched them hunting for small game.

An added feature on this loop is the presence near the top of an intricate network of plastic tubing, near and under which the trail passes, revealing what appears to be a considerable maple syrup operation the landowner conducts each spring. His modern sugar house is connected to tree taps that send the sap via gravity to be boiled down.

The hike up on this loop revealed an abundance of fall wildflowers, ferns and lichens, with the evidence of lots of small critters who call the area home and for whom it is clearly a green paradise.

From the top of the ridge one can then embark on another loop hike of about four miles that traverses the back, or western side of the property.

On that easy stroll, you’ll see the evidence of farms that used to dot the property with old cellar holes still evident, and stone walls that used to line fields that are now woodland. Small sections of old wire fences are still evident, and one sees the occasional rock piles, testimony to the work of farmers of generations past who cleared the land for pastures and crops.

Deer, moose and porcupine signs abound on this loop, and the songs of the black-throated blue warbler, ovenbirds and phoebes fill the air. Woodpecker cavities in dead trees are common sights, and I’m told that on late afternoons and on overcast days you’ll hear the calls of barred owls.

This westerly loop passes by a number of wetlands, home to frogs, salamanders and beaver.

Now to the multiple pleasures.

Only about seven miles farther east on Route 126 lies charming Clary Lake, also known as Pleasant Pond, which straddles the Jefferson-Whitefield town line and where the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with the town of Jefferson, has built a launch ramp, only a few hundred yards up Route 215 on the east shore of the lake.

So after spending no more than three hours on Marr’s Ridge, I was ready to pop the kayak into the roughly 700-acre pond that measures under three miles in length and less than a mile in width at its widest point for a relaxing paddle. At only a 23-foot maximum depth, the lake is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, white perch and chain pickerel that provide, I’m told, very good fishing in both summer and winter.

But I didn’t wet a line on my recent visit because I had one more stop to make, and that was another five miles farther along to the east on Route 126 where, on this particularly hot September day, I was ready for a refreshing dip in the water at the family friendly sand beach at Damariscotta Lake State Park, where there’s a changing area as well as picnic tables and grills.

Then it was a cool ice cream cone at a nearby stand to round out a perfect day.

John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son Josh write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty that only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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