Young spruce grow beneath an older canopy of white pine on the shore trail at Green Point Preserve in West Bath. (Photo from “Best Seashore Nature Sites”)
Young spruce grow beneath an older canopy of white pine on the shore trail at Green Point Preserve in West Bath. (Photo from “Best Seashore Nature Sites”)
Poking around in a coastal tide pool with a good friend, looking for pale pink slipper shells and purple starfish as an occasional gray seal placidly looks on from a nearby rockweed-covered boulder is a pretty good way to spend a hot summer afternoon, no matter your age.

And that's the same sort of idea conveyed by a new book on coastal nature sites and hikes on state and municipal public lands located between Freeport and Searsport.

"Best Seashore Nature Sites: Midcoast Maine," by Des Fitzgerald, Tony Oppersdorff, and Kyrill Schabert, just published by Waterline Books in Jefferson, is part hiking guide, part a collection of natural history essays, and part midcoast photo essay. The guide is not a comprehensive guidebook. It's more like a friend who is knowledgeable and excited about local nature and history that says: You want to go for a short hike? I know a great place just down the road. And off you go, on a small adventure with a local insider to a place you otherwise might have missed.

In fact, I would keep this guide in the car as a back-up hiking buddy tucked into the glove box.

I knew, for instance, that Wolfe's Neck State Park was near Freeport, but I didn't know that its cool mossy trails through coastal spruce forests were only five miles from downtown, allowing for a quick getaway while friends do their shopping. It was a surprise, though, to find the Maquoit Bay Conservation Land - 124 acres at two coastal spots within easy walking distance of Bowdoin College in Brunswick. The eelgrass flats attract migrating shorebirds and offer views up and down the shore with nary a building in site - no small thing in a section of expensive coastline.

And I knew about Swan Island, a 1,750-acre state wildlife management area in the middle of the Kennebec River, just a short hop off I-295, located about halfway between Portland and Augusta. The island, which is accessible only by boat, is a step back in time, with historic buildings, open fields, woods, and marshes, and no electricity. Swan Island requires some planning. Visitors must get a day pass or a camping pass from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) in advance. The state runs a boat from the Richmond landing. The trip takes about three minutes.
But I didn't know about the 75-acre Pownalborough Courthouse Preserve along the river in nearby Dresden, with its elegant 1761 white clapboard courthouse: a 7,000-square-foot, three-story, post-and-beam Colonial building with 24-paned windows, two chimneys, 12 fireplaces, and floorboards over four feet wide that must surely have come from one of the King's Royal Pines, according to the book. Benedict Arnold passed through here on his way to try to capture Quebec, as did John Adams, on legal business. The courthouse doubled as an inn and tavern for some of the most influential Bostonian speculators interested in Maine's woods and riverfront, and to politicians during the early phases of Europe's colonization of the territory that, at that time, was part of Massachusetts. There are guided tours of the courthouse, and also wooded paths above the river that require no guide at all.

Overall, the authors focused the guidebook on 32 sites, most of which are nature sites along the coast.The book also includes three sites that can only be explored by canoe or kayak, including Knight Pond in Northport and Ruffing-ham Meadows on Route 3 in Searsmont.

"Best Seashore Nature Sites: Midcoast Maine, Public Preserves for Marine and Upland Exploration," 2015 - $24.50, 212 pages - is available at the offices of the Georges River Land Trust in Rockland, Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden, Archipelago in Rockland, and area sporting goods shops and local bookstores.