Snowshoers make their way across Saint Joseph’s Nature Sanctuary on Saturday during a nature walk in Winslow led by several Maine master naturalists. Kaitlyn Budion/Morning Sentinel

WINSLOW — The Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon welcomed residents to the Saint Joseph’s Nature Sanctuary on Saturday morning for a guided nature walk through the winter foliage.

Members of the public joined three Maine master naturalists on snowshoes as they highlighted aspects of the area that are better seen in the winter months. Located at 80 Garland Road, the convent of 14 Roman Catholic sisters welcomed attendees for its first event of the new year.

With a thick layer of icy snow coating the property, snowshoers crunched through the top coat, breaking down into the powdery snow underneath, as they marched across the property while discussing highlights pointed out by naturalists Bonnie Sammons, Linda Woods and Harry Vayo.

“Any landscape that we pass by, there’s so much there, and most of us are in our own little world and we don’t notice,” Sammons said. “But when you stop and notice, it’s amazing.”

Although it was a brisk and overcast Saturday morning, that did not stop the roughly 25 guests from strapping on snowshoes and enjoying a winter walk across the property.

The sanctuary, which reaches the banks of the Sebasticook River, includes wooded portions with the iconic winter pine trees and shrubs sticking up through the deep snow. Vayo led the column of snowshoers, stopping to point out different types of pine trees, galls — a swelling growth on plants, which Vayo likened to plant acne — and a small bird’s nest.


“We’re trying to provide opportunities where people can see they can observe and learn and interact with nature in all seasons,” Sister Judy Donovan said of group’s goals for the sanctuary and the local community.

Attendees discussed the different types of grapes grown in the region, and what qualified a plant as an invasive species. They stopped to smell the remains of tansy flowers and debated the merits of making tea from sumac.

Area residents enjoy a nature walk on snowshoes Saturday morning, discussing the highlights of winter foliage as they traverse Saint Joseph’s Nature Sanctuary in Winslow. Kaitlyn Budion/Morning Sentinel

There have been signs of deer and coyotes on the land, but with such a tough top layer of snow, no clear tracks were visible, although the naturalists handed out a pocket guide to Maine animal tracks for visitors to take home.

Not all participants felt comfortable snowshoeing, and several stayed inside the sisters’ meeting house, looking at leaves under a microscope and doing a brief experiment to see the amount of air in different types of snow and ice.

Kay Spofford, 63, lives just up the road from the sanctuary, and snowshoed over to the meeting house for the nature walk. An avid outdoors enthusiast, she said she really enjoyed finding a small bird’s nest on the hike.

Xavier Nelson — the youngest snowshoer of the day at 5 and three-quarters — said that his favorite part of the day was snowshoeing, and he left with a collection of flowers and leaves from the walk.

The walk was part of a larger ongoing series of skill-sharing workshops, held on the fourth Saturday of every month. Upcoming workshops will include how to tend and prune raspberries, eradicating poison ivy and more.

The sisters have joined with many local groups to found the nature sanctuary, including Kennebec/Messalonskee Trails, Citizens Climate Lobby and many more. The new partnership aims to restore the 4 acres of land, add trails and build a small outbuilding on the property.

They continue to fundraise for construction, and have raised $26,000 so far, Donovan said. They need another $10,000 to reach their goal. Those interested in donating or learning more about the project can visit

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