This summer marks the 45th anniversary of the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center on Pine Point Road in Scarborough – an incredible resource that puts Maine’s largest salt marsh right at visitors’ fingertips.

The 3,100-acre estuary, owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, lies at the intersection of the Dunstan and Nonesuch Rivers and Saco Bay, and it’s one of Maine’s most unique and beautiful places.

The marsh is a feast for the senses. Standing on the deck of the Audubon Center (perfectly situated just feet from the water, with sprawling views) you’ll see the lazy ebb of the Dunstan River, filled with marsh birds and human paddlers; you’ll hear the sounds of ibis, herons, sandpipers and egrets; you’ll smell the salt air from the Atlantic mixing with the rivers and creeks; and you’ll feel the unrestricted sun shining down from above.

This summer, in celebration of the center’s 45th anniversary, make a point of visiting at least once – though you may have trouble exploring everything the estuary offers in just one day. If you want to paddle, you can rent a canoe or kayak and make your way through the winding waters, either alone or on a tour led by naturalists. If you want to walk, you can ramble along Audubon’s flat, .3-mile nature trail, where nearly a dozen stations point out historical, ecological and animal facts. And if you’d like to learn something new, you can visit the exhibits at the center, including aquariums, mounted birds and mammals, with interactive activities that are particularly great for kids.

Maine Audubon also has a summer full of special programs prepared for visitors, featuring everything from a night hike searching for bats to a workshop where you can build a seashell wreath. Get more information at maineaudubon.org/events.

While there are hours worth of activities at the Audubon Center, I can’t write about Scarborough without mentioning the wealth of other outdoor opportunities that surround you there. Thanks to a variety of different groups, including (but not limited to) the town of Scarborough, the Scarborough Land Trust, the Eastern Trail Alliance and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are a number of destinations where you can hike, bike, paddle or kick back on the beach.

For hiking, the town-owned Scarborough River Wildlife Sanctuary (just down Pine Point Road from the Audubon Center) offers a mile of easy walking on 52 acres of protected land. Wide mowed trails provide easy access to the banks of the Scarborough River, looping over land that has served as hunting grounds for Native Americans, farmland for Europeans and even a golf course. As the sign at the trailhead puts it, “This area has endured much history.”

Scarborough Land Trust has been around nearly as long as the Audubon Center, and it will celebrate its 41st anniversary this year – having come a long way since its formation by eight local residents as the Owascoag Land Conservation Trust in 1977.

The organization now conserves more than 1,600 acres of land and maintains nearly 10 miles of trails on six properties.

If paddling a canoe or kayak is your passion, then the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center is a destination that has to be visited and enjoyed.

Each property is unique, from the working farm fields at Broadturn Farm, to the extensive trail network crisscrossing Fuller Farm, to the quarter-mile Universal Access / ADA Trail surrounded by wildflowers at Pleasant Hill Preserve. The varied but not-too-difficult terrain at all these properties makes them ideal for visiting year-round, and they’re particularly good local snowshoeing spots in the winter. Find more information at scarboroughlandtrust.org.

If you prefer to explore on two wheels instead of two feet, a stretch of the bike-friendly Eastern Trail runs through Scarborough. A trailhead with parking near the Audubon Center provides access to this wide, flat, multiuse trail, which currently boasts 22 off-road miles from South Portland to Kennebunk.

In fact, you can bike all the way to Kennebunk on the Eastern Trail from this trailhead, and it’s a distinctly scenic and enjoyable way to make the journey. When traveling in the other direction, there’s a gap in the trail that prevents you from traveling off-road all the way to Bug Light in South Portland – but late last year the Eastern Trail Alliance reached their $4.1 million fundraising goal to “Close the Gap,” and an uninterrupted trail is finally within sight.

Paddling through the twisting channels in Scarborough Marsh is a unique way to see the local flora and fauna up close, but if you prefer paddling on open waters there are public boat launches at Pine Point and Ferry Beach that offer easy access to Saco Bay.

Other interesting public boat launches include the Nonesuch River just west of Black Point Cemetery, where you can paddle into Scarborough Marsh from the ocean side by rounding Nonesuch Point; and the Spurwink River on Route 77, where you can paddle a portion of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Finally, if your ideal day involves sand, sun and surf, Scarborough has a number of long sandy beaches where you can while away the summer hours.

Pine Point Beach stretches for miles, all the way to Old Orchard, but without the boardwalk or the crowds. Scarborough Beach State Park and Ferry Beach, on either side of Prouts Neck, each have their own charms; the former is bigger and a little busier, with more amenities (like the Mainely Burgers food truck), while the latter has more unique scenery, backed by the Prouts Neck Golf Course and looking across the water toward Pine Point and Old Orchard.

Higgins Beach is perhaps my favorite, with a massive expanse of sand at low tide, surfers riding the waves all day, and the remains of the three-masted schooner the Howard W. Middleton poking out of the beach to capture kids’ (and adults’) imaginations.

While it’s just minutes down the interstate from Portland, Scarborough feels like a wholly different stretch of coastline. The beautiful green spaces, incredible marsh, sandy beaches and thoughtfully stewarded trails are a testament to Scarborough’s residents – and they’re worth visiting time and again.

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

[email protected]