What’s one thing an outdoor enthusiast likes even better than conservation land? New conservation land, when—by donation or purchase—more turf gets protected for the health of the environment and the enjoyment of future generations. A number of key habitats, from remote forests in Maine to an island in the Chesapeake Bay, were preserved by governments and land trusts in 2016. That means more opportunities for you to get out there and explore. Below are a few highlights, with suggested points of entry for your first visit.
1. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (North Maine Woods, Maine)
On August 24, 2016, President Barrack Obama designated 87,500 acres of woods, rivers, and mountains as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument—one day ahead of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Donated by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, the federal land is located in north-central Maine, directly east of Baxter State Park. Highlights include the East Branch of the Penobscot River and the foothills of Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain. (Read more about how the national monument came to be.)
The property—touted by the White House for its biodiversity, as well as its hiking, paddling, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing—is divided into northern and southern segments. There’s no official visitors center, although seasonal information centers recently opened in Patten and Millinocket. Keep in mind that visiting Katahdin Woods and Waters is very different from visiting a National Park with a developed infrastructure. This is still a wild place, and you need to be independent, with polished outdoor skills, and ready to drive on dirt roads. Be sure to do your research before showing up.
Recommended trail: There are several short and long-distance hikes from trailheads along the Katahdin Loop Road in the southern section and along Messer Pond Road in the northern section. In the southern section, Barnard Mountain is a good easy-to-moderate foray. Follow the signs for Barnard Mountain and leave your car in the parking area off Katahdin Loop Road, just before mile marker 12. From there, follow the International Appalachian Trail north about 1.5 miles to the Barnard Mountain Summit Trail trailhead. From there, it’s 0.8 mile to the summit, which offers 180-degree views of Katahdin Lake, Katahdin itself, and the surrounding area. Dogs are welcome on-leash. Make sure to check online before heading out, as this trail closes during inclement weather. Visit the national monument’s website for more information and a map.
Directions, fees, hours: Katahdin Woods and Waters is a two-hour drive west of Bar Harbor and a one-hour drive north of Bangor. Coming from the south, take Route 11 (Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway) to Swift Brook Road. Admission is free, and the park is always open, although the Millinocket welcome center, located at 200 Penobscot Avenue, is closed for winter 2017. The Patten information center is located inside the Lumberman’s Museum, 61 Shin Pond Road. Call 207-456-6001 or visit the website for updated winter hours and more information.
2. Fogg Hill Conservation Area (West Center Harbor, New Hampshire)
Good news for White Mountains fans: With the purchase of an additional 43 acres in spring 2016, Fogg Hill Conservation Area now protects 235 acres only a stone’s throw south of the White Mountain National Forest. Beginning with its purchase of 192 acres from local landowners 2013, Lakes Region Conservation Trust—which manages Fogg Hill and partnered with Waukegan and Winona Watershed Protection Agency on the 2016 purchase—is working toward protecting a contiguous, 900-acre woodland and wetland. No roads bisect the watershed at present, and LRCT hopes to keep it that way by conserving more acreage over time.
Recommended trail: Choose between two newly cleared paths. For a quick and easy jaunt, a gentle stroll leads around the pond from the parking area. There’s also a yellow-blazed trail to the top of Fogg Hill. For the latter, plan on about an hour round trip.
Directions, fees, hours: Because Fogg Hill Conservation Area is currently unmarked, your best bet is to input the site’s GPS coordinates into your device: 43.682636, -71.546605. The parking area, a mown field, is off Piper Hill Road, about 0.6 mile from the intersection with Hawkins Pond Road. Fogg Hill Conservation Area is open daily until dark, and admission is free. For more information, call 603-253-3301 or visit the Lakes Region Conservation Trust website.
3. Taconic Mountains Ramble (Hubbardton, Vermont)
Vermont’s park system grew by 420 acres in October 2016 with the addition of Taconic Mountains Ramble. This bucolically named land passed from the Carson Davidson Revocable Trust Fund to the state’s Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation when the property’s previous owner, Carson “Kit” Davidson, died in September at the age of 92. A documentary filmmaker and author, Davidson and his wife, Mickie, a children’s book author, spent 46 years blazing hiking and cross-country ski trails, preserving wildflower meadows, and building a Japanese garden on the property. During their ownership, the couple provided open access to the public. With its transfer to the state, the land retains that all-welcome policy.
Recommended trail: First-time visitors can get the lay of the land via Mickie Trail. Pick up the trailhead at the main parking area and follow it to the summit of Mount Zion Major. Although short, the trail is rocky and steep in places, and you’ll want to take care with your footing, especially after rain and when the trail is covered in wet leaves. You can make a loop by way of Springs Trail, which returns to the parking area via the mountain’s opposite side, passing the Davidson house en route.
Directions, fees, hours: From Hubbardston, take St. John Road to the marked access road. The main parking area is off the access road, just past the gate to the house. Taconic Mountains Ramble is open daily until dark; no camping or fires are allowed. Admission is free, and maps are available onsite. For more information, visit the Vermont State Parks website or call 888-409-7579.
4. Boreas Ponds (Newcomb and North Hudson, New York)
Few places offer over-the-bow views like Boreas Ponds, a paddler’s heaven that was added to Adirondack Park in spring 2016. Part of New York State Forest Preserve’s 20,000-acre acquisition from The Nature Conservancy, this new Essex County tract, in turn, is part of the 6-million-acre patchwork of private and public lands that makes up Adirondack Park. Largely composed of lowland, Boreas Ponds is nested between the North River Mountains to the west and the Boreas Mountains to the east, offering spectacular views of the High Peaks to the north. An accessibility and usage plan is underway, but the area is already popular with hikers, paddlers, and mountain bikers alike.
Recommended trail: Hardy paddlers can portage (or wheel) their canoes or kayaks 3 miles along the remote, unpaved Gulf Brook Road connecting the nearest parking area to the ponds. It’s a trek, but early reports say the view from Boreas Ponds is more than worth it.
Directions, fees, hours: A parking area is located on Gulf Brook Road, just north of Blue Ridge Road, between the towns of North Hudson and Newcomb. From the gate in the parking area, it’s about 2.5 miles to LaBrier Flow then 0.5 mile more to Boreas Ponds. Admission is free, and the parking area (one of three; the other two are at the Sand Pond Road entrance and the Ragged Mountain Road entrance) is open year-round. For more information, contact the Adirondack Interpretive Center at 5922 State Route 28N, in Newcomb; call 518-582-2000; or visit the Boreas Ponds website.
5. Hart-Miller Island State Park (Chesapeake Bay, Maryland)
More than 8 miles of trails, migrating birds, views of Chesapeake Bay: When it comes to new public lands, it doesn’t get much better than Hart-Miller. In other words, make your plans now for the spring, when the park reopens for the season. This 1,100-acre island is located in the Chesapeake Bay, near the mouth of Maryland’s Middle River. In May 2016, Maryland Park Service opened a 300-acre southern section to the public, accessible only by personal watercraft—an easy 15- to 20-minute paddle from Rocky Point Park, on the mainland. (The state aims to open the northern section to the public by 2021.) Paddlers and swimmers alike will appreciate the island’s western shore, which offers safe mooring and a 3,000-foot sandy beach.
Recommended trail: Because it serves as a migratory-bird stopover and a major nesting ground, Hart-Miller made Audubon’s list of Important Bird Areas. Follow the 1.8-mile Long Trail Loop for a chance to spot some of the island’s winged visitors (semipalmated sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs), as well as species known to breed here (swamp sparrow, willow flycatcher).
Directions, fees, hours: Rocky Point Beach and Park, operated by Baltimore County, is located at 2200 Rocky Point Road, in Essex. It’s open sunrise to sunset, year-round. Parking is available, and admission varies; call 410-887-2818 or visit the website. Hart-Miller Island State Park is open daily, 8 a.m. to sunset, from May 1 to September 30. Admission is free; several campsites are available in-season for $6 a night. For more information, call 410-592-2897 or visit the Hart-Miller Island State Park website.