Various trails meander across open fields and to the shore of the Upper Damariscotta River. Picnic tables are placed for ideal viewing of wildlife and of the wild river currents.
A 0.3 mile accessible trail that meets ADA and ABA standards provides access to Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site from Round Top Farm. This 8 foot wide trail is gently graded and finished with stone dust. It is ideal for strollers, bikes, and wheelchairs as well as for those on foot. There is accessible parking at both ends of the trail.
The Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site, owned by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and operated cooperatively with Coastal Rivers, once contained a massive oyster shell heap or midden formed over a period of over 1,000 years by Native Americans. The shells were processed for chicken feed in the late 1800’s, leaving behind just a fraction of the original mounds.
The trail through the Historic Site is a half mile loop that takes hikers past an historic apple orchard and along the east bank of the Damariscotta River. At this site, remnants of an historic shell midden can be seen and the trail loops back around to the trail head. The upper Damariscotta River is famous for its enormous oyster shell heaps, created by Native Americans over a period of about a thousand years, between 2,200 and 1,000 years ago.
Shell middens, also called "shell heaps" and "shell mounds," are scrap piles left by prehistoric peoples, usually in coastal areas, consisting of discarded oyster shells along with related cultural materials, such as bones, ceramic pots, and stone tools. Ranging in size from a thin scattering of shells along the shore, to deep layered accumulations like the ones found here, middens show thousands of years of annual migrations of Native Americans. Evidence from these shell middens show that these people harvested oysters in late winter/early spring probably coinciding with the annual mid May migration of alewives. During the rest of the year, these natives traveled inland to farm and hunt and there is no evidence of permanent settlements at these sites.
The Whaleback shell midden gets its name from the shape of the original mound. Once nearly thirty feet deep, much of this midden was removed in the late 1880's to supply factories with shells for the manufacture of Oyster Shell Grit which was used as chicken feed. As a result, only a small portion of the Whaleback remains today.
Interpretive storyboards relate the history of the middens, their accumulation and destruction, and also share stories of the Upper Damariscotta River. A swinging bench by the shore affords an ideal view of one of the largest intact middens on the east coast, the Glidden Midden, just across the river. The small loop trail through the orchard, once part of the Round Top Farm, provides access to all of these points of interest, and the short overlook path from the parking lot is handicapped accessible.
Round Top Farm was once the center of the thriving Round Top Dairy operation. Coastal Rivers inherited the property following the demise of Round Top Center for the Arts. The grounds include a Victorian-era farmhouse, renovated in 2019 to serve as Coastal Rivers’ headquarters, a grand 1928 hay barn now outfitted as a performance and event space, and several outbuildings. There is also an outdoor ice skating rink with a warming hut.
Visitors should also take precautions when hiking on the property to prevent Lyme disease. Please check for ticks on yourself and your pet after walking along the trails.
For additional information, visit the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust website, or contact:
Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Southern Region Parks Manager
WHALEBACK SHELL MIDDEN STATE HISTORIC SIDE TRAILHEAD
From US-1 in Damariscotta, take Belvedere Road (located a half mile north of where US-1 crosses over the Damariscotta) and follow Belvedere Road 0.1 mile to stop sign. Turn right and follow US-1 Business/Main Street another 0.5 miles. The parking lot and trailhead are on right.
ROUND TOP FARM TRAILHEAD
Continue south another 0.2 miles on US-1 Business/Main Street past the Historic Site trailhead to the Coastal River Conservation Trust offices at Round Top Farm on the right (3 Round Top Lane), just past Round Top Ice Cream.
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