Sunkhaze Meadow National Wildlife Refuge

This quiet hike is only about forty minutes from home, so I took a run over there yesterday to check it out.

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Shortly after approaching the sign, the asphalt turned to dirt, and 3+ miles later dropped me at the Johnson Brook trailhead.

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One trail finder site listed the hike as moderate to strenuous, but I figured it would be a cakewalk compared to the Appalachian Trail in this state (Maine). And I was right. Equipped only with my running bottle carrier (with 24oz. of Nuun electrolyte drink), some bug spray and my trekking poles, I set out into the sunny, slightly humid 78 degree morning.

The majority of the track is ankle to knee-high grass and fern passing beneath a consistent tree cover, giving the hike the feel of traversing a partially overgrown dirt road. There are also some short passes across pine needles and along bridges over swampy areas. I kept up a surprisingly fast clip, and the footing was stable enough for me to look around while I was powering down the trail.

The US government site warns that, as it is mostly marshland, Sunkhaze is home to a copious amount of biting insects. To that I can attest. Never was I so happy to be covered head-to-toe in Permethrin-treated hiking apparel! Very few actually landed, so the insects did little to spoil my enjoyment of the hike. But man, there were lots of deer flies. And the dragonflies that hovered close to the trailhead were numerous and huge! When I stopped moving to snap a photo, the mosquitoes were aggressive, but not so much while moving. If bugs aren’t your thing, definitely visit in the chillier months or drown yourself in DEET…

It hasn’t rained here much lately, so many of the structures bridging the protected swamp areas seemed superfluous.

I’m sure after a good rain they’re quite necessary, though. I did manage to find some small swampy and muddy areas even during this dry spell.

I took a side trail to the beaver dam, and managed to snap a quick photo before the squadrons of assault flies and mosquitoes sent me on my way.

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The wildlife in Sunkhaze Meadow National Wildlife Refuge turned out (for me at least) to be a solitary chipmunk. Unless you count biting insects as wildlife. Then the woods were absolutely teeming with creatures.

Overall I did four miles of wandering out there, and enjoyed the solitude. By the condition of the trail, I would say it’s not heavily used. That’s too bad because, if you come prepared to fend off the insects, it’s really a nice little hike. And despite what the trail finder page I found said, it is a pretty easy hike, with stable footing and little to no elevation to deal with throughout the vast majority of it. There are also directional signs to keep hikers on the right track, so the less intrepid can navigate the trail without GPS, map, compass, signaling mirror, flares, etc.

I’d like to return in the fall when the foliage is gone to see if I can spot some wildlife hiding amongst the bare trees. Maybe a moose in the water near the beaver dam? We’ll see…

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