Lifestyle & Amenities
At Your Fingertips
What are the makings of a vibrant, active community? Part of the recipe is a full calendar of life enrichment programs for you to choose from—created by listening to and learning from you. From exercise and wellness to adventures in the larger community, we provide great sources of joy, excitement and relaxation—each and every day. We’re always sure to make time for laughter, connection and friendship, and include those ideals in everything we do.
We encourage everyone—not just our residents but also our team—to lead healthier, more active lifestyles, helping build a culture that celebrates every moment in our journey together.
Life Enrichment Calendars
We offer a calendar as full as you want it to be. Feel free to choose from any number of activities, or just relax in the comfort of home and in the company of friends.
Join Us Anytime!
Ready for Summer?
We’re ready for sunshine, celebrations, and enjoying time spent together this summer. Come join us and find out how amazing summer can be when you share it with friends and explore new hobbies. Our community provides a variety of events and activities suited for you! Grab your sunscreen, a hat, and we’ll provide the rest! At The Highlands no matter what’s happening outside, every day looks brighter here. It’s not like home, it is home. ™
Food brings us together. Whether sharing an intimate meal with a best friend or celebrating a special occasion with all your loved ones, we are certain that living here will satisfy your appetite for connection with others and for the most delicious food.
A healthy lifestyle starts with healthy eating options. Our meals are made with real ingredients, by real chefs. From 24/7 availability of snacks and beverages to options for social, family-style meals, dining at The Highlands is sure to add flavor to your everyday experience. Homemade and restaurant-quality, our food is fit for any taste.
June 2nd - June 15th
Week of May 28th
Health & Wellness
Living well can mean lots of things. It’s seizing opportunities to connect with others, explore interests, grow spiritually and nurture a healthy lifestyle. It’s being part of a community where you feel valued and welcome. At The Highlands, we provide all the ingredients our residents need to live up to their full potential. From fitness lessons to therapeutic programs and everyday activities that define our vibrant community, everything we do is guided by a sense of purpose.
Aging is a natural process, and one that presents both joys and challenges along the way. Sometimes we need a little extra help, which is why our community partners with therapy providers to ensure mobility stays high and stress remains low. We have carefully selected partners who are known for their therapy skills, tailoring programs to meet your individual needs. Guided by professionals who have experience working with a range of issues, we help you get the compassionate and convenient care that helps you live your best life.
From around your neighborhood to out in the town, we want you to live your life to the fullest. We welcome you to explore nearby attractions and events at your leisure and ensure that your travel is safe and convenient. Whether it’s to attend medical appointments or enjoy the local flavors and shops, we connect you with transportation you can count on.
Friends of The Highlands Trails
1. Come walk with me
The mission of The Friends of The Highlands Trails is to advance a model of thoughtful use and create recreational and educational trails that are cared for by the people who use them.
There are many reasons to walk the trails here at The Highlands. Perhaps you just want some exercise and get your heart pumping as you wind your way down into the ravine and back up again. For many, a trail is an entry into a different world, a chance to slow down, to observe, to gain the benefits of time out-of-doors.
If this is why you are walking here, then this interpretative path is designed for you.
The numbered posts along the path are keyed to descriptions that may be accessed by using the QR codes on each post.* They draw your attention to specific things of interest as well as ecological processes that tie us into the network of life.
Linger along the trail. Look into the woods on each side of the path as you go along; note what is underfoot; listen for the sounds of other living things; inhale the aromas — of woodland flowers, trees, decaying matter; feel the textures of bark or leaves. In other words, explore with all your senses to become familiar with all the life here.
As you wander along the trail, consider how the life found here is part of a complex system - and that you are a part of it.
These trails are maintained by The Friends of The Highlands Trails; the numbered posts were made by Dave Vancura; text was prepared by Jackie Cressy; individual plant signs were provided and placed by Allen Cressy.
Thank you to the many residents of The Highlands and the wider community who collaborated to create the trail and descriptions.
*Hard copies of these descriptions are available in the Library.
2. Alien Invasion
This spot has a prime example of an “exotic invasive”—Japanese Barberry. This deciduous shrub with its attractive arching branches, pale yellow flowers, and decorative red fruit was introduced to the US in the 1860s and has run rampant over the New England landscape. Note the simple spines that adorn the stems. This plant can be seen in many places on The Highlands trails and may have originated from foundation plantings done before this plant was placed on the Maine banned list.
So what makes this plant an “exotic invasive?” “Exotic” just means that it is not native to the area in which it is found. “Invasive” refers to its ability to grow in a wide variety of habitats and out-compete native shrubs that would share similar locations.
Barberry has several specific characteristics that make it a big problem here in New England:
Its seeds are dispersed by birds and other berry-feeding animals, often far from the original location.
It has a sexual reproduction system which only requires one plant, as both male and female flowers occur on the same plant.
It is a master of asexual reproduction; sprouting from broken or cut stems, root suckers, and stem layering are all ways barberry increases.
Its spines are a great deterrent to predators that would chomp on the stems.
Barberry fruits can remain on the shrub all winter; the longer the fruit persists, the greater its advantage over other plants.
Note: Many of our favorite garden plants can be called exotic, because they did not originate here, but most of these do not have characteristics that make them invasive.
To learn more about this alien and recommended ways of controlling it, Click Here
For species of particular concern in Maine, like burning bush, oriental bittersweet and Norway maple, Click Here for printable fact sheets on each species listed.
Asiatic Bittersweet exists in only one spot here - DO NOT MAKE A WREATH FROM IT!
Multiflora rose is often found at edges between lawn and woods.
Many photos from Invasive Plant Gallery
3. Plants from the Time of Dinosaurs: The Ferns
Near this post you can observe a few species of some of the oldest plants still surviving on our planet. First appearing over 300 million years ago, ferns are largely responsible for the deposits of coal and gas that have fueled our economy for so long. (Every time you drive your car, you’re using fossilized ferns to reach your destination.) Ferns dominated the land before the rise of flowering plants and managed to reach magnificent proportions, many over one hundred feet tall. This period of the Earth’s history had a global climate of warm temperatures and high humidity, ideal conditions for ferns to flourish.
Similar to flowering plants, ferns have roots, stems and leaves. However, unlike flowering plants, ferns do not have flowers or seeds; instead, they usually reproduce sexually by tiny spores or sometimes can reproduce vegetatively. In nature, fern spores germinate in moss, rotting logs, or damp exposed soil in shady locations (such as by a stream).
There are several kinds of ferns along all the trails here. Take time to notice the differences and similarities in their structure, how finely cut the leaves, where the spore cases are located, their particular shade of green.
Identification of different fern species requires a special vocabulary. The diagram "Parts of a Fern" found using this link describes these terms.
A great pocket-sized guide to fern identification is “Fern Finder” by Hallowell & Hallowell, available from Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris and other on-line vendors. If you would like to know more about these ancient plants, here is a great resource: https://www.amerfernsoc.org/about-ferns.
As you have been walking along the trail, especially where it goes along the stream, you have likely noticed a lot of low, dense green growth carpeting the ground. Often overlooked because they don’t have flowers and are low to the ground, these tiny plants are worth getting to know.
Mosses are ancient plants, dating from 450 million years ago, and have survived and thrived through many drastic changes in climate. They occur on every continent and are the second most diverse group of plants, outnumbered only by the flowering plants.
If you look very closely, you will see that the mat of mosses at the base of this stump is composed of many, many individual plants that need each other for support. Each individual plant has a stem and leaves, but no root. Instead, it has rhizoids, hairlike structures that anchor the plant to its substrate, be that rock, bark or soil. (Also note the tiny ferns. Moss plays an important role in providing substrate for other plants to grow.)
Moss was viewed as a very practical plant in most Native American tribes. Since moss is one of the most naturally absorbent materials available, it was valued for use in bandages, baby diapers and bedding. Dried moss could be used as a fire starter.
Because mosses act like sponges, absorbing whatever water is available through their stems and leaves, their presence benefits other plants by keeping moisture in the soil and maintaining humidity. Moss communities provide microhabitats in which diverse organisms can survive, providing valuable shelter for insects to live, lay their eggs and hunt for food.
It would be a mistake to ignore these little plants as we walk by them for, they play an important role in Maine’s ecology.
5. Eastern Hemlock
Of the four conifers found along our trails, Eastern Hemlock is the most common. Hemlocks are very tolerant of shade; seedlings can survive in as little as 5% of full light. Eastern Hemlock also appears to inhibit the growth of other species underneath its canopy, so it is not unusual to find large stands of Hemlock with very little undergrowth. You can see this on the uphill side of the Brook Trail.
To identify Hemlock, just observe the needles and the cones. Hemlock needles are flat, arranged singly along the branchlets and are only ⅓ to ½ inch long. If you turn over a twig and look at the underside of the needles, you will see two white lines on each side of the slightly raised midrib. These are actually tiny openings called stomata and are how gases are exchanged between the leaf and the environment. (Use a hand lens to see the individual holes.) Hemlocks have a much finer, more fragile look overall, and the top of the tree tends to bend over. Cones are small, about ¾ inch in length.
Unfortunately, our Hemlocks are being attacked by an invasive insect from Japan and introduced in the US in the 1950s. The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is an aphid-like insect that feeds on Hemlocks using its piercing and sucking mouthparts. Feeding damage leads to decline and can cause mortality of affected trees. Look for this pest on the undersides of Hemlock twigs.
6. What Lies Beneath
Here by this bridge with a railing (Thank you, Trailmasters!), stop and take a close look at the rill draining the hillside and flowing into the ravine stream. Notice two different colors of mud lining the rill bottom and sides-a brown color and an interesting bluish-gray color.
What you are seeing is a geologic phenomenon known as the “Presumpscot Formation” that underlies much of the Maine coast and extends well inland along major river valleys. It is named after the Presumpscot River where large amounts of the characteristic bluish-gray clay are found. The brown color is caused by oxidation of the bluish layer.
This material was once part of an undersea deposit, left there from the glacial grinding of the feldspars, quartz, and micas found in this region. (Topsham was once the site of many feldspar quarries.) Glacial meltwater carried the abraded material to the sea floor, which subsequently rebounded as much as 300 feet as the glacier receded. The age of the Presumpscot Formation has been calculated by radiocarbon dating of fossilized remains of marine organism found interspersed among the deposits. What you are seeing, then, can be anywhere from 11,000 to 14,000 years old!
The light blue in this Maine map shows where the sea, driven higher by melting glaciers 14,000 years ago, once covered parts of Maine. Where the sea encroached is approximately where marine clay is found today. (Map created by Alice Doughty)
This clay was a historically significant resource to produce brick, though little of that industry remains now. However, as Bates College began excavating the foundation for a new science center in 2019, more than 10,000 cubic yards of this ancient blue-gray marine clay was hauled away. The science center’s concrete walls will be sheathed by bricks made by Morin Brick Co. from its very own clay, mined across the river in Auburn.
For more on the characteristics, origins, and importance of this strange stuff that we hardly notice, but underlies our campus, read the article “Clay Play” (The map image here is from that article.)
7. Maine's State Tree
Here is another native conifer of our Maine woods, the Eastern White Pine. Its needles are always held in bunches of five. (All pines hold their needles in bunches; the number in each bunch is indicative of the species. Of our other common species, red pine has two needles per bunch; pitch pine has 3.) The needles of White Pine are 2-6 inches long and appear silvery. The White Pine is important economically as well ecologically.
Each tree can produce both male and female cones. The small, clustered male cones produce pollen-that yellow dusty film that seems to cover everything in late spring. Female cones are 3-8” long, curved slightly and have smooth scales; they produce seeds that are favored by black bears, rabbits, red squirrels and many birds, especially red crossbills, making them an important food source for many species.
White Pines grow best in full sun, though they are tolerant of shade when young. This may explain why there are only a few examples of white pine in the ravine, and many of them are quite small. Under favorable conditions, a White Pine can increase in height as much as 24” in a year. White Pine trees can be found anywhere from dry rocky ridges to sphagnum bogs.
White Pines can grow to majestic sizes - as much as ten feet in diameter and 130 feet tall. In Colonial times, large straight pines were designated as “King’s Pines” and were used as masts for ships.
You can estimate how old a particular pine is by counting the number of whorls of branches coming out from the main stem. (This is a fun activity to do with children: ask them to find a pine that is as old as they are. Is it taller or smaller?)
8. Spring Beauty
At this station, please notice a small native plant that you are likely to see on trails throughout our area—if you are looking closely. Like so many of our native woodland plants, it blooms in the spring before the leafy canopy limits the amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor.
Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, has an exquisite fragrance, but you will have to be here early in the spring and search among the fallen leaves to find the five-parted white to pale pink flowers. Look for its mat of broad, oval, leathery, evergreen leaves. Its fruit is a whitish berry, somewhat resembling a raspberry.
Trailing Arbutus is sometimes called “Plymouth Mayflower” as it is believed to be the first flower noticed by the colonists after surviving their first New England winter. This plant is one of three in our woods to be called by the common name of “Mayflower,” which does point to the value of knowing scientific names! (The other two are Bunchberry and Canada Mayflower. The latter is identified along the trail with a small metal sign.)
Trailing Arbutus is sensitive to environmental disturbances and is difficult to establish and perpetuate. It is very slow growing even in good conditions, and probably requires a mycorrhizal association to survive. So - no picking, no transplanting!
9. Another Wildflower Treasure
Another common wildflower found throughout our woods is Partridgeberry, a vine with opposite leaves and bright red berries. It blooms in late spring with small fragrant paired white flowers that are joined in a funnel-shaped tube. In order to get one berry, both flowers of the pair must be pollinated.
Now take a close look at one of last year’s berries and notice that it has two dark red “eyes” or “bellybuttons” from where the corollas (groups of petals forming the flower) were joined close together. The berries are edible, though rather tasteless, persisting through the winter into the following spring. They are eaten by many birds. Partridgeberry is frequently seen as a dense ground cover beneath deciduous trees and can be grown in your own garden under the right conditions. (Only buy plants from a reputable nursery, though. Do not attempt to transplant these beauties from their natural habitat. Like many plants, they form mycorrhizal relationships with certain fungi and will not survive transplanting.)
10. FIRm, Flat and Friendly
The Balsam Fir highlighted here is especially well-known because of its fragrance and popularity as a Christmas tree. It is quite easy to differentiate from other conifers- just think “Firm, flat and friendly!”
“Firm” refers to how it holds the cones on its branches: they stand upward from the branch, rather than hanging below the branches like other conifers. Fir cones are difficult to collect because they form near the top of the tree and disintegrate without falling off, leaving a narrow erect stalk behind.
“Flat” refers to their three-dimensional shape. Rather than round or square (like spruces), the individual needles of the Fir are quite flat. While you are noticing this, take time to turn the needle over and look at the underside. Just like Hemlock, these needles have those white lines that are tiny holes for air exchange. However, Fir needles are more robust than hemlock needles and longer, being at least ¾” long.
Lastly, take hold of a twig and feel the ends of several needles on your fingertips. The ends of the needles are blunted, without the sharp points of the Spruce needles. If you grab hold of a branch to keep your balance as you go along the trail, you’ll want it to be a Fir, because it is “friendly” and won’t poke into your tender fingers!
During spring, harvesting new growth of fir tips is a big business in Maine, as they fill all those pillows you can buy in the tourist shops. The fragrance will last for years and makes a great reminder of Maine.