a snowshoer hikes through a snowy trail in Westbrook in December 2020
Kristen Beverley-Waters wears snowshoes as she hikes the snowy Mill Brook Preserve in Westbrook in December 2020. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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Some winters, snow is prolific. It’s the precipitation equivalent of Bean boots and buffalo plaid. Whether we’re into it or not, it’s everywhere. Those years, we have the luxury of taking snow for granted. We can wake up Saturday morning and venture outside for a snowshoe through the stillness of a local preserve, stopping to listen to the serene babble of a winding brook. Or we can make waffles and watch “Love is Blind” season three — either way, the snow will still be there tomorrow.

But some years, snow is elusive. Like this one, so far. There’s not a flake on the ground in greater Portland at the moment (largely receded crust piles in area parking lots not included). We’ve had plenty of wind and rain, but nothing you can build a fort with. For the snow fans among us, that stings. It’s too premature to call it. It’s barely January, for goodness’ sake. But it’s starting to feel like we might get ghosted. 

On the chance that snow remains a scarce commodity, it’s wise to have some first-rate snowshoe destinations at the ready — ideally places that you can get to in a flash, should snowfall be immediately followed by 50-degree air temperatures and/or torrential rain, as seems to happen around here. 

a brook cuts through snowfall on the wooded Westbrook trail
A winding brook cuts through the fresh snowfall at the Mill Brook Preserve Trail in Westbrook, December 2020. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Here’s a good one to pocket away until needed: Mill Brook Preserve in Westbrook. 

Tucked between Methodist Road and Route 302, Mill Brook Preserve boasts six miles of trails that wind through the woods, often within spitting distance of the brook. While road traffic and residential neighborhoods aren’t far off, that day-to-day hubbub feels distant when you’re meandering the preserve, insulated by fresh snow and tall evergreens.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust conserved the 130-acre property in 2016. It’s a splendid local respite any time of year, and close enough to wander on your lunch break. Just after a fresh snow, with the brook gliding its way through puffs of marshmallow white, it’s downright picturesque.

Four trailheads offer access to the preserve, including a southern trailhead on Perry Court, the MAGAN trailhead across from Willow Drive, and a trailhead on Methodist Road. I prefer to begin at the northern trailhead, at the intersection of Methodist Road and Route 302, where there’s room for eight cars.

From the northern trailhead lot, it’s a quick descent into the wooded valley. Mill Brook has done a fine job of carving through the terrain, and some sections of the trail are hilly and steep. (Snow and ice can make this section and other steep areas slippery, so be sure to bring snowshoes and/or microspikes in winter months.) There are a few bridges that afford brook crossings when the trail switches sides. 

From the northern trailhead, you can follow the brook down to the two-mile southern loop, passing the fairy and gnome house village (perhaps some of those small fairy doorsteps could use a quick mitten shoveling), then crossing the brook for the return trip. 

Even if you choose to loiter brookside and spend your time admiring the way the sunlight peeks through the forest canopy, it’ll be well spent in this Westbrook nook. 

Though I also encourage you to stand under the snow-laden branches of a young tree, giving the slender trunk a gentle shake until all the snow showers down like the world’s most intense one-directional snowglobe. It’s the best. 

So keep Mill Brook Preserve on the short list for a local snowshoe, when winter inevitably decides to gift us some of the good stuff. We must seize it while it lasts. 

And after the snow window closes for the season, consider heading back in the spring to witness a remarkable journey of fish. Mill Brook welcomes the largest annual migration of alewives from Casco Bay to Highland Lake, where they go to spawn. The northern and southern fish viewing pools in Mill Brook Preserve are two of the best places to see it, typically in late May and early June. 

But first, let’s enjoy the snow.

Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook

Six miles of trails ranging from moderate to difficult (expect snow and ice in the winter, and bring appropriate traction).
Primary trailhead: Intersection of Methodist Road and Rte. 302 in Westbrook. FMI: www.prlt.org/mill-brook-preserve

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