From Herb Hodgkins’ living room, you get a sweeping view of the Tidal Falls. As a visitor sits and talks with the retired lobster pound keeper, the rapids steadily grow from a faint warble to frothing whitecaps, attracting a group of kayakers.
This change is part of what makes one of Maine’s eight reversing falls so special. Twice daily, the town of Hancock’s Tidal Falls reverse direction, resulting from a tidal discrepancy between Frenchman Bay and the inland Taunton and Hog bays. The area’s underwater ledges constrict the tide, causing the water to move in when it rises — as an extended wave — and flow out when it falls.
Herb, who kept a commercial tidal pound where millions of live lobster were stored and fed over decades, explained the reversal with help from a tidal chart: “[The tide] will just about stop, and in 10 minutes start to reverse directions…,” the 84-year-old Hancock resident relates. “It’s like pouring water from one tumbler into another.”
Located off Eastside Road in Hancock, the 8-acre Tidal Falls Preserve belongs to Frenchman Bay Conservancy. The nonprofit group possesses 32 preserves and 33 easements straddling 8,000 acres in Hancock County’s Union River and Frenchman Bay watersheds.
Open to the public, the holdings range widely. You can hike down to the Union River and see osprey and eagles dive for fish in the Indian Point Preserve, kayak over to, picnic and camp overnight on Bean Island, or ascend Tucker Mountain and enjoy a striking view of Frenchman Bay.
In early July, the conservancy kicks off a summer-long celebration (July 8, 4 p.m.) of its $2.25-million restoration and remodeling project that features a newly-built, panoramic pavilion for viewing the falls and the renovated Exploration Center that boasts interactive exhibits for kids of all ages, including a digital touch-screen map of the preserve and audio displays featuring both aquatic and amphibious animals as well as sounds of the area.
“We want to make it an interactive, living museum. We hope kids of all ages will take something away from it,” conservancy staffer Thomasina DiBiase explained, her eyes lighting up. “It’s incredible, whether you are on the deck [pavilion] or inside you feel like you are right in the water.”
Over the past 70 years, Herb has seen many changes occur on the scenic property overlooking the rapids including the most recent $2.25-million project.
Originally from the Lamoine village of Marlboro, Herb’s father, Dana Hodgkins, purchased 12 acres of land next to the falls in 1950, when the former lobster pound keeper was 14. He’s lived there ever since with his own family and various relatives.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Herb and his father ran a seafood takeout restaurant from the first floor of their family home, serving up freshly harvested lobster to hungry visitors. The Exploration Center’s historical photo gallery features a young Herb holding a massive lobster.
“Fourteen and a half pounds!” he declared proudly. “We had a permit from the state to hold it for observation by the customers.”
The takeout eventually closed, but through the trees above the falls, you can still see the remnants of Herb’s old lobster pound.
Besides running the pound, Herb helped the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute and researcher Robert Bayer develop an antibiotic treatment for gaffkemia, commonly known as red tail disease, afflicting lobsters.
In the 1990s, Herb sold the scenic shorefront property to his brother and it was acquired by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy in 2000. Last summer, the group closed the preserve for renovations involving the removal of existing buildings and opening up the view. A new hiking trail was built. Historic log-and-granite cribwork was restored along the shore.
“We wanted to restore the shoreline to as close as what it was originally, without the structures,” said Aaron Dority, the conservancy’s executive director. “The result is remarkable.”
Do all these changes make Herb nostalgic for the past? Not in the slightest. While admitting that he “gulped” when construction workers tore down his childhood house to make way for the pavilion in 2016, he embraces the changes at the place that he has called home all his life.
“If there was never any change in this world it would be a very dull world to live in,” he said.
Through July and most of August, the conservancy hosts free concerts at 6 p.m. on Mondays, featuring local musicians ranging from the rock band The Crown Vics, Michael and the Ya Yas and The Trisha Mason Band, among others. Other summer activities include tai chi outdoors and various art workshops.
The Tidal Falls Preserve is located at 72 Tidal Falls Road in Hancock. For more info, call 422-2328 and visit frenchmanbay.org.