Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wanderer: Exploring Maine’s Scarborough Marsh

by Brenda Zollitsch

Every year at this time in Maine, we reach that point when going outside as the temperature drops becomes a choice rather than a given.  The amount of clothing that is required, the preparation in case you get stuck where you don’t want to be comes into consideration, and whether or not your family will tolerate your trek in the cold is a gamble you have to make.  What I have found at this time of year is that finding the right place to drag everyone into a wetland is the key to late autumn explorations.

The Scarborough Marsh in Southern Maine always makes the decision an easy one.  It’s our go-to cold weather wetland wander.  The Marsh trails are part of both the Eastern Trail System and the system of Audubon Centers, bringing the benefits of well-cared-for trails, gorgeous vistas, clear maps and notable points along the way.  Best yet, unlike most Audubon-run areas, dogs are welcome, which makes our golden doodle Tucker happy indeed!

The Scarborough Marsh is a gorgeous tourist attraction during summer months, with access to rental canoes and paddling on a tidal creek through the marsh water meanders. The grasses are lush, framed by rose bushes, photogenic wooden fences and long bridges.  It is easy to be in the marsh in the summer.  It takes a hardier soul the rest of the year, yet the rewards are no less.  In the non-summer months, we park just past the Audubon Visitor’s Center for a walk along the bike trails. Once everyone is properly dressed and wearing too many clothes to be comfortable, I put my daughter in the backpack (really?  I thought she was getting big enough to walk…), and organize drinks, the all-essential snack, my camera and a map for my son to pore over along the trail.  Our favorite moment is when we make our way out onto the initial bridge and first see the great expanse of marsh.

Owned and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the 3,100 acre estuary is the largest salt marsh in the state, made up of an array of tidal marsh, salt creeks, freshwater marsh and uplands.  It is not difficult to understand why the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has designated the Scarborough Marsh as one of the state’s most significant coastal Focus Areas.  The marsh’s wildlife productivity and habitat diversity are astounding.   It is home to a wide array of ducks, Great Blue Herons, and birds of prey. Nearby are also Scarborough Beach and its dunes, which provide critical habitat for the region’s piping plovers and least terns.

The walk can be as long or as short as you want.  We usually go about two miles and turn back.  The gravel-lined trails are easy to walk, so we can go farther with the kids than we usually would.  We look at marsh grasses, check out shadows as the sun gets lower, identify new birds we have never seen and check out what seed husks and other signs of activity we can find.  And that is about all at this time of year.  As toes become icy and fingers cease to move it is time to head back, timing which often coincides with late fall’s early sunsets.

Every time I am in that amazing marsh, regardless of the time of year, I want to protect it.  In Maine, we need to think about Southern Maine’s encroaching development and the impact of huge increases in impervious surface in the region over the last 15 years.  Thanks to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society, the Eastern Trail Alliance, and other partners, Scarborough Marsh will be enjoyed for years to come.  However, we all need to do our part to protect the places we care about.  The Maine Department of Environmental Protection shares some ideas about how individuals can take action to protect the Scarborough Marsh that are equally useful for protecting your local wetlands.

  • Reduce contributions to stormwater pollution through simple acts such as reducing your use of lawn chemicals, picking up after your pet, and making sure your car is properly maintained;
  • Encourage your town planners to improve approaches to development that may impact these areas;
  • Encourage home owners to maintain adequate buffers;
  • Work to permanently protect any remaining undeveloped areas around the wetland;
  • Monitor and remove invasive plant populations; and
  • Educate recreational users about the ecological and economic benefits of the wetland.

For more information about the Scarborough Marsh, check out:

Maine Audubon Society – Scarborough Marsh

Eastern Trail Map and Information

Maine DEP Focus Areas Fact Sheets: Scarborough Marsh

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