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Mill Brook Preserve, Westbrook

Updated: Jun 4

Alewives migrating at Mill Brook Preserve in Westbrook, Maine

All hail the alewives! They have arrived at Mill Brook Preserve to make their annual migration to Highland Lake. These impressive fish are not to be confused with the alewives of medieval England, women who made ale and served it in their own homes before pubs existed. Although equally impressive, we'll stick with the aquatic version today.

This preserve features a 6-mile trail system on 130 acres of forested land along the crystal clear Mill Brook. It is notable for the largest migration of alewife fish to Highland Lake in late May and early June. To read all the fascinating details on the alewife migration, here is a great blog post from Maine Trail Finder.

In summary:

- Alewives are a species of river herring and they are anadromonous. This means that they live their adult lives in the ocean, but migrate up freshwater rivers to spawn.

- Alewives are important because they are a critical prey species for many larger fish off the Maine coast. They are also a food source for many seabirds, marine mammals, and land-based animals (trash is not the only delicacy for those rascally raccoons).

- Dams, pollution, and overfishing have led to a great decline in alewife populations over the last 200 years, but there is good news. Restoration efforts have been underway and alewives are responding well, using the fishways and fish ladders that have been built for them. These ladders give them a "step up" in their upriver migration to spawning ground.

- Alewives migrate from mid-May to mid-June, so now is the time to see them! The best place to view alewives at Mill Brook Preserve is the Southern Fish Viewing Pool at Goldilocks Falls.

This land is conserved by the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and was part of the lands of the Wabanaki People for over 10,000 years. The hilly forested trails wind along the river and are perfect for those seeking peace of mind.

For the 2-mile southern loop (which I highly recommend), park next to 55 Perry Court on the side of the road. You will easily spot the trailhead and then see a sign leading you past a couple of sheep in a private residence. You may be excited to see them, but they will be unimpressed by you. I'm guessing they've seen their share of hikers.

Continue onward, winding your way down to the first trail signs, where you can either go right or left along the loop. We usually take the loop counterclockwise (going right at this fork), but do whatever feels good to you. There is a scavenger hunt that you can follow along the way, which also runs counterclockwise.

The first landmark you will arrive at is a large bridge spanning the water. From here, continue following the blue blazes. The trail hugs the water most of the way until reaching Goldilocks Falls (about a mile from the main trailhead), where you can usually spot a cluster of alewives during their migration season.

From the falls, you can either turn back and retrace your steps to your car, or you can continue on the loop for the full 2 miles. This will bring you back on the other side of the water, after crossing an old bridge at the loop's end.

This trail is well maintained and easy to navigate with clear signage all over the place. It also offers benches for sitting...and watching those alewives work their tails off as you rest. My final tip is to bring some bug spray, you will be happy you did!


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