Sunday, January 9, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 95: Freeport, Maine

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 95:  Freeport, Maine
October 6, 2010

            Although it is widely known throughout the Northeast as the home of more than 200 outlet and designer shops there is much more to see in Freeport including one of the most amazing natural phenomena in New England.
Wolfe's Neck Farm
            Famous names such as L.L. Bean, Nike, and Reebok are well known throughout Freeport due to their outlet shops but there was another name that I decided to check out upon my arrival in this small town twenty minutes northeast of Portland.  That name was Wolfe’s Neck.
            Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is only a few minutes drive from the famous Freeport Outlets but it is a completely different world all together.  It consists of over 200 acres of land given to the state by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith in 1969.  The drive down Wolfe’s Neck Road is a great example of how much Freeport’s landscape can change in such a short distance. 
            I began to feel so far from civilization the further I ventured toward Wolfe’s Neck.  I took a walk on the Casco Bay trail to try to get a good feel for the area.  I will freely admit that on this day it was a race against time as a huge rain storm was approaching so I was trying to see as much of Freeport as possible before the rains came. 
            Casco Bay is the name for the area of ocean east of Portland.  From the shoreline where I walked it was hard to tell what was where as there are so many tiny islands scattered in the bay.  Along with the many islands of varying size I enjoyed the colorful rocks carved up by the repeated ocean waves.  The dull pink and yellow colors of some of the rocks were only matched by the increasing colors in the trees of the foliage of autumn.  It was a very calm and peaceful area and lucky for me the rain held off long enough for me to enjoy it.
Panoramic View at Desert of Maine
            Another spot with the Wolfe’s Neck name is the 626-acre Wolfe’s Neck Farm.  The Wolfe name comes from the first settler of the area, Henry Wolfe.  The land on which Wolfe’s Neck Farm stands was purchased in 1947 by the same Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith who eventually donated Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park.  The farm today is used as much as an educational tool and family recreation as it is for actual farmed goods.
            There are 118 campsites and cottages on the shores of Casco Bay at the Recompence Shore Campground at Wolfe’s Neck Farm that are popular for families visiting the area.  It is not just a run of the mill campground either, it was voted ‘Best Coastal Campground’ by Yankee Magazine in 2010.   
            As amazing as the Farm and State Park which bear the Wolfe’s Neck name are there is another spot which is one of the craziest natural phenomena I have seen on any of my trips.  The Desert of Maine is just what it says it is, a huge sandy area in the middle of the forest in Freeport.  I had heard about this place but had no idea what to expect when I arrived.  It ended up being every bit as spectacular and wondrous as I could have hoped.
The camels at the beginning of the Desert.
            Where the Desert resides now was once a thriving farm run by the Tuttle family at the end of the 18th century.  Unfortunately their failure to properly rotate their crops combined with overgrazing and clearing of the land led to the lush topsoil eroding away.  What was left was glacial silt which looks like sand but is not. 
            The small patch of glacial silt gradually spread, overtaking the entire Tuttle farm, and has grown today to some forty acres in size.  The Tuttles abandoned the farm in 1919 after it was purchased by Henry Goldrup who turned it into the tourist attraction it is today.  There are tours of the grounds every half hour but I decided to walk it on my own, partially because with the impending rains I wanted to see everything but also hurry.
            There are some amazing attractions within the attraction here including many original tools used by the Tuttle family 200 years ago and a decomposing wagon used by the Tuttles as well.  Out in the sand there is an area of moss which has grown over the glacial silt leading to a theory that in time fertile soil may once again cover the Desert in the future.  There is also a buried spring house.  Essentially a spring house is a small building used for refrigeration in rural areas before electricity made it there.  The spring house was built in 1938 and was completely buried by the glacial silt by 1962.  There is a measuring stick on the dune which measures the height of the dune at eight-feet.
Harrington House c.1830
            In the end all of the sites within the Desert of Maine did not stop me from realizing that this odd natural phenomenon basically looks like someone scooped up a large section of beach and dumped it in the forest.  There are even camel statues and a desert thermometer at the beginning to give it a genuine feel.  It was near the end of my walk that the rains came.  However I still needed to pay a visit to the Downtown Freeport outlets even if it meant getting wet.
            I mentioned a few of the famous brands with outlets in Freeport and most people familiar with it know many of the others.  There are actually a few historic sites including the First Parish Church which was founded in 1789.  There is also the old brick Harrington House, built in 1830, which is the location of the Freeport Historical Society.  The rain combined with the colorful foliage actually made this building stand out more.  Sure I got soaked taking photos of these spots but it was well worth it in the long run.
            Many people think of Freeport as only being home to hundreds of outlet shops but there is so much more.  There are amazing trails and sites at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and countless activities at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, not to mention the simply incredible Desert of Maine.  Of course after all of that is done there are always the outlets, I am no fool!  Have fun and happy traveling!

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DirectionsWolfe’s Neck Farm:  From Rt. 1 heading north into Freeport turn right onto Bow St. right after North Face Outlet.  Continue onto Flying Point Rd., turn right at Lower Flying Point Rd., take 1st right onto Burnett Rd.  Main building is on right almost a mile down the road.
            Desert of Maine:  From Rt. 1 heading north into Freeport turn left at Desert Rd. just before Shaw’s Plaza.  Follow road to the end.
            Freeport Outlets:  From the south Take I-95 to the Maine Turnpike, Exit 52.  Follow signs to I-295 North and take Exit 17, 20 or 22 for Freeport. All of these Exits lead directly to Rt. 1, which is Main Street. 

ReferencesWolfe's Neck
            Desert of
            Freeport Historical

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