Sunday, September 6, 2015

Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park (Blog Hike #544)

Trails: River Run and Bridle Path Trails
Hike Location: Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park
Geographic Location: south of South Berwick, ME
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2015
Overview: A rolling loop hike with good Salmon Falls River views.

Directions to the trailhead: In extreme southwestern Maine, take I-95 to SR 236 (exit 3).  Exit and go north on SR 236.  Drive SR 236 north 6.2 miles to SR 101 and turn left on SR 101.  Drive SR 101 0.2 miles to Oldfields Road and turn right on Oldfields Rd.  The state park entrance is on the left after 2.6 miles on Oldfields Rd.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and park in the gravel parking lot beside the picnic tables.

The hike: Located in extreme western Maine flush against the New Hampshire state line, Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park protects 250 acres of old farmland along the Salmon Falls River.  Farming here dates to the late 1700’s, when farming practices called for cultivating a plot of land for only a decade or so before moving on to a new plot of land.  The old plot was then left to grow up through the natural stages of forest succession, which includes berry bushes, brush, and finally trees.
In 1898, Emily Tyson of Boston bought a plot of old farmland that was just starting to grow young white pine trees.  Emily and her daughter Elizabeth Vaughan managed the forest for its health and beauty, and Elizabeth, an accomplished equestrian, enjoyed riding horses through the forest.  In 1949, Vaughan bequeathed the land to the State of Maine to be maintained in a “natural and wild state,” thus forming the state park.
True to Vaughan’s wishes, the park today boasts only a small picnic area and a pit toilet for facilities, thus allowing the natural and wild woods to take center stage.  A single main loop trail of 1.7 miles traverses the woods, but numerous short-cut trails allow you to hike a shorter route if that is desired.  The longest loop takes about an hour to navigate, and that route is the one described here.
Trailhead beside pit toilet
The trail that goes left (south) from the parking area between the picnic tables will be our return route.  Our outbound route starts at the rear of the parking area beside the pit toilet at a wooden sign that says “Walking/Hiking Trail.”  This gravel trail is the newest in the park, and it drops steeply straight down the hillside to reach a trail intersection.  The path going right takes you down to the Salmon Falls River bank, but you will get more river views later.  Thus, I chose to angle left to begin heading south parallel to the river.
The trail crosses small Hamilton Brook on a wooden footbridge and heads south with the river downhill to the right and the hillside rising to the left.  Dark shady hemlock forest dominates the area near the river.  After climbing slightly at 0.2 miles, you need to angle right just before you intersect the Bridle Path, the return portion of our loop.  Some faint white blazes mark the outbound trail, which is called River Run on the park’s trail map.
Hiking River Run
The trail undulates somewhat as it dips in and out of a long sequence of small ravines.  Wooden footbridges get you over most of the streams in these ravines.  Salmon Falls River remains in sight through the trees on the right, and several benches placed sporadically along the trail allow you to sit and enjoy the forest and river.  You are so far west in Maine that looking across the river provides views into New Hampshire.
Salmon Falls River
Four different trails exit left at various points and allow you to short-cut the hike.  In the order you intersect them, these trails are named Porcupine Path, Windy Walk, Warren Way, and Old Gate.  At 0.7 miles, the trail passes around Cow Cove, a large, shallow, muddy inlet of the Salmon Falls River.
Just past 0.8 miles, you reach the furthest point from the trailhead at a location called Trails End.  The riverside River Run Trail and ridgetop Bridle Path both end at this point, which lies near the park’s southern boundary.  Another bench is located at Trails End, but the view is similar to several river views you have already passed.
Trails End
To continue the loop, leave Trails End on the Bridle Path as it climbs moderately to reach the hilltop.  Because this trail runs along the hilltop rather than along the river, it bypasses all of the small ravines, so the hiking is a little easier compared to the outbound route.  Some paper birch trees make an appearance in the ridgetop forest.  Though horses are allowed on this path, I saw no evidence of horse activity when I hiked here.
At 1.1 miles, you reach the historic Warren Home Site, the former home of James Warren.  Born in Scotland, Warren came to America in 1650 as a prisoner of war.  He settled this site in 1656, where he lived until he died in 1702.  Today only a small clearing and mound remain of Warren’s home.
Warren Home Site
Continuing north, the trail next passes through an old gate.  Only a concrete post remains of the gate.  At 1.5 miles, the Bridle Path drops slightly to reach Hamilton Brook, which it crosses on a new wooden bridge.  Where the Shady Stroll Trail continues straight upstream along Hamilton Brook, turn left for the final leg back to the parking area.  A steep climb over wooden waterbars brings you out at the picnic tables beside the parking lot, thus completing the hike.

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