PORTLAND — As Charlie Baldwin discussed the history of the Smelt Hill Dam with two dozen hikers at the Presumpscot Preserve on Friday night, he was interrupted by a loud splash.

“Do a back flip,” one boy said to the other, both laughing as they hurled themselves off a ledge and into the Presumpscot River.
Gabe Axelson and Tanner Foley, both 13, had snuck off from the group for a quick swim. As the sun went down, the boys, who live near the trail head, agreed that the water was warm but refreshing.

The boys had joined the hike as part of Portland Trails’ summer Discovery Trek series, which highlights various trails and green space that the organization manages.

The trail along the river is a sanctuary in Maine’s largest city for hiking or biking. And with access to water that has been cleaned up over the years, it also allows visitors to swim or enjoy kayaking or canoeing below Presumpscot River Falls.

Friday’s guided walk, led by Baldwin, the trail foreman for Portland Trails, explored the preserve along river.

“It’s a real special place,” he said, home to wildlife such as white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes and fisher cats.

Rachael Weyand, the outreach manager for Portland Trails, said many people in the surrounding neighborhood use the trail and she hoped the trek would let others discover the area.

Jessica Eller, a hiker who had joined a previous trek, brought along Chris Fitze and their 2-year-old son, Martin Eller-Fitze. “It’s a way to explore and get information,” she said.

During an hour-long hike through the woods, Baldwin shared facts about the Presumpscot Preserve as he guided the group along a dirt trail following the bank of the river.

Ginny Randall of Scarborough saw the hike as an opportunity to learn more about the wildlife.

“It was a nice night,” she said of why she joined the group. “I’ve been on this trail before. It’s nice, with the spring streams, water and rocks. It’s pretty, going down into the woods.”

Hikers ambled over tree roots and embedded rocks as they traversed the trail. While private property and homes are just 500 feet away, the quiet woods seem to be a world apart from the bustle of Portland.

As homes encroach on the river, Baldwin said, Portland Trails and other organizations strive to keep green space close to the most heavily populated part of Maine.

In 2002, the Smelt Hill Dam, one of nine along the Presumpscot River, was removed, allowing for more movement of the river along the trail. Between the dam removal and the federal Clean Water Act, enacted almost 40 years ago, Baldwin said there has been a comeback among various species of fish in the river.

“They’re quite resilient,” he said of species such as rainbow trout, bass, shad and sturgeon, which have reappeared in the river and attracted ospreys and blue herons to the area again.

Efforts are being made to remove some of the eight remaining dams along the river, Baldwin said. Efforts also are being made by Portland Trails to extend access to green space for the area’s residents.

Weyand said that as Portland Trails approaches its 20th anniversary next year, it has met the goal of having 30 miles of trails open to the public and is setting its sights on 50 miles.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:
[email protected]