Island of the Sea: Monhegan Island, Maine

Hiking
  |  Gorp.com

Hikers, birders, and naturalists of every stripe also come to lose themselves in the serenity of this carefully protected environment. In 1954, Theodore Edison (grandson of the inventor and a Monhegan cottager) helped to organize Monhegan Associates, a nonprofit corporation, in order to preserve the island's natural state. Its mission:"Preserve the wild land of Monhegan Island in its natural ecological state consistent with its use by the public." Its methods: Ecology lectures, maintenance of hiking trails, and forest-fire prevention. Islanders have the added burden of resource conservation—water is turned off in winter and many still go without electricity, so the awareness of living an environmentally friendly life is very high, and makes the often careless waste of resources by summer tourists difficult to stomach.

Farming and sheep grazing left the island scrubby and denuded in the 18th and 19th centuries, but with the cessation of agriculture and livestock raising in the early 20th century, the current lush spruce forests began to grow back. The elimination of the deer herd in the 1990s (due to a virtual epidemic of Lyme disease among residents) also helped regenerate balsam firs and hardwoods. The forests share space with over 600 varieties of wildflowers.

For the active traveler, the centerpiece of Monhegan's natural habitat is the trails. They crisscross the island for 17 miles, bearing prosaic numbers and poetic names (Fern Glen, Red Ribbon) and taking in the equally evocative sights—Christmas Cove, Horn Hill, Gull Rock, Squeaker Cove (so named because it's just a little squeaker of a cove), Blackhead, Pulpit Rock, Seal Ledges (where the fat-bellied creatures flop atop the rocks on sunny days), and Deadmans Cove, just to name a few. The trails vary in difficulty, and it's easy to put together short or long hikes that cater to every skill level and show off both the coastline and the interior woodlands.

Without a doubt, the most spectacular—and toughest—trail is the 1. Skirting the circumference of the island and providing a solid five- to six-hour hike, the path winds along the narrow, scoured ledges of the headlands, peering down into the roiling water, detouring occasionally into the cool buggy forests that fringe the coast, and continually presenting views that cause one to stop and sit for a while in awed silence. It isn't hard to understand why the islanders—the permanent population is only around 65—can be a little distant. I sometimes felt as if I were an interloper on their home turf, graciously allowed a taste of Monhegan at its summertime gentlest while the locals have to tough it out through long, cold, dark winters with only each other to depend on. The ability to wander these trails and understand these shores on a long-term basis is truly a privilege and ties the residents together, for better or for worse.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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