Though the day was cold and windy, almost two dozen people gathered to take part in the program. Master Naturalist Karen Herold and PRLT Executive Director Rachelle Curran Apse led the family-friendly trek, stopping frequently to discuss tracks in the snow and how to identify the wild creatures that had recently been traveling that path.
A wide variety of tracks showed evidence of the many creatures who share the land at the Hawkes Preserve, including mice, squirrels, deer, otter and mink. The trail winds its way through the woods behind Great Falls Elementary School and along the Presumpscot River.
The one-mile nature loop trail was developed in partnership with the school, said Curran Apse. The school uses the trail with students in the spring and fall. A pamphlet guide details six marked stops along the path. The brochure offers a brief description of what visitors can expect to see at the stop, including the shoreline, specific trees and plants, and a small wetland area. The Animal Tracks program was one of many events put on by the non-profit PRLT, which manages just over 1000 acres of land on 20 preserves in Presumpscot River Watershed. The goal, said Curran Apse, is to offer a program every month, to get people out enjoying and learning more about nature.
“We’re focused on finding, preserving and protecting open space for wildlife and for public recreation,” said Curran Apse. This includes creating trails, and seven of the preserves are free and open to the public for recreation. “We want people to get out and enjoy nature on them,” said Curran Apse. “That’s why we’re doing more programs, to make sure people know about them. We hope that after programs like this people come back on their own and keep enjoying them,” she said.
The PRLT is in their 30th year as an organization, and has had many exciting new recent developments. One is their closure on the Randall Orchard preserve. This is a conservation easement, meaning that although the land is still privately owned by the Randall family the 500 acres will always be protected as farm and forest, and will never be subdivided.
Their newest preserve is the Millbrook preserve in Westbrook. “What is really exciting about it is that thanks to the dam being removed on the lower Presumpscot about a decade ago, migratory alewife now come from the ocean up Millbrook to Highland Lake and spawn,” said Curran Apse. “Putting a preserve on there and putting in a trail is going to allow people from the region to come and see this amazing migratory fish.” Although a trail won’t be completed until this summer, a program is planned at the reserve for World Fish Migration Day on Saturday, May 21st.