Friday, June 17, 2016

Glidden Middens and Whaleback Shell Middens

Great Salt Bay, Newcastle boardwalk
Boardwalk thru the tidal marsh at Great Salt Bay
Give us a few hours with nothing on the horizon and we'll hop in the car and go for a drive! This is a place I have wanted to find since moving here. Yes, we went looking for a 1000+ years old shell dump. (An odd thing to go search for, I know, but it's a state historic site so other people have been here before us.)

Salt Bay Preserve Heritage Trail
Along the Salt Bay Preserve Heritage Trail

Doing a search for the shell middens I found the Damariscotta River Association (they offer tons of trails and educational programs). The website has trail maps, hours of operation, driving directions, and more. Print out a map before you go. (There are detailed, hand-drawn maps at the trailhead, but you can never be sure there will be one the day you go.)

Great Salt Bay
Great Salt Bay from the trail

There are two completely different trail systems you can take for two different experiences with the shell middens. On this trek we took the Salt Bay Heritage Trail in Newcastle. Next time we'll try the trail on the opposite side of the river in Damariscotta - Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site

It was a gorgeous June day that ended up in the 80's by late afternoon.

Here are some photos from the trail:

Glacier Rock

Bridge across the tidal river (you can see this from Rt 1, I always thought it was someone's dock)

Crushed shells on the trail

Thru the woods

Trail marker

 The trail on this side of the river is very well maintained. (And very well marked as you can see above.) It was an easy walk, albeit quite a bit longer than I thought it would be. Ah, I just went back to the map on the DRA website - this is a 3 mile hike! Explains so much. I'd hazard a guess it's 2 miles on the way out and 1 mile thru the woods on the way back, if you do a round trip hike. (More on that later.) There are a lot (a LOT) of tree roots so wear good boots or shoes. Not a place for flip flops. (More on that later, too!)
It was a lovely day and the breeze off the bay was perfect. We saw these cormorants just before we headed back toward Rt 1 (which you can hear on and off throughout the hike).

 As we neared Rt 1 again we checked the map. We were getting close to the sheep tunnel. When Rt 1 bisected the farm back in the 1960's this tunnel was added under the road so the sheep could move from field to field without wandering onto what is now an extremely busy section of road! 

Sheep tunnel under Rt 1

Ok, let's talk about the tunnel. Firstly, do not read It by Stephen King before this hike. That tunnel is the reason why. Secondly, wear good shoes - waterproof boots that come up to your ankles. This is not the place for bare feet or flip flops. Think oozy slime. Good thing - we saw no spiders!

We also did not walk thru there. Even Rock said, "Um, no." So, up and over we went. Rt 1 at this point is a fair straight away so traffic is moving. It's quite obvious we were not the only people to do this as we easily found the trail on the other side down from the road. However, I cannot recommend doing it this way. It does not appear that this water is from the tide, rather it appears to be from runoff from the road. The tunnel is slightly longer than a two lane road with breakdown lanes is wide. I'll leave it to you to measure it.

From here it's a short hike to the middens. Watch for the sign; it comes up quickly. If you miss it, you'll walk all the way back to Rt 215 and not see what you came for! 

I will say here I was expecting something completely different. Now that's because I forgot it's been a thousand years, tons of people walking along here, years of digging up the shells for fertilizer in the 1880's, lots of high tides and general wear and tear. However. If you have the sort of imagination that impels you to go looking for a shell midden laid down THAT long ago, you'll find it kind of awe inspiring. Stop. Take a moment to think about this. Look at the shells under the tree roots, shells in the water, shells as far as you can see and think about the families of Abenaki and other Native tribes foraging along the Damariscotta River a thousand years ago! Summer camp. Maine's shores were vacationland long before we came along. And even though you can see Rt 1 just up the way, it's so peaceful here. Really quiet. Inspiring.

If you are not up for a 3 mile hike, then check out the very short trail just across the Damariscotta River at Whaleback Shore. (Please remember this is a state historic site and do not remove any shells, plants, vegetation, etc. If you absolutely have to have oyster shells, go to King Eider's Pub in Damariscotta and order up a dozen!)

Rock getting a close up look at the shells under the forest floor

Just a tiny piece of the area history

View across the Damariscotta River to the Whaleback Shell Middens Trail and Calf Island

 And there you have it! The Glidden Middens on the north side of the Damariscotta River. The Whaleback Middens are on the south side and we'll save that up for another day.

Some caveats: I used bug spray on my hat for the black flies and on my pants and boots for the ticks. But the mosquitoes were so bad on the last mile of the hike that my neck looks like Dracula had a field day. We both had to roll our sleeves down and I pulled my hands up into my sleeves and stopped taking photos the mozzies were that bad. 

At one point on the way back I swear deer were the only living beings that walked the trail before us. The grass was knee high and the ground was very boggy in some places. Did I mention the mosquitoes? The orange markers kind of disappeared in the boggy areas so we were hoping we were still on the trail. We followed some fresh deer tracks for awhile.

My suggestion? Turn around and go back the way you came. OR, use a lot of bug spray, be sure you have boots, and check for ticks when you get home. I took a shower and dumped my clothes in the wash.

However, there was a beautiful pond with hundreds of lily pads on the walk back. It was very serene. If only the mosquitoes weren't there.

If you love hiking in the woods, this is the walk for you. If you'd rather not then opt for the trail on the other side of the river where it is a much shorter walk if you park in the Whaleback Shell Middens parking area.

Great Salt Bay Trail sign (park across the street)

Detail of the shells on the shore
 Pair this hike with the Damariscotta Mills fish ladder and alewives run in May and June.

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