UNITY — From any road you take into this rural Waldo County town, you pass farms. Field upon field of cows, goats, chickens and alpacas as well as corn rows, hay bales and vegetable crops. And with these rolling views of working farms not only comes the expansive views from yesterday, but one very unique linear trail to the future.
“On a clear day, from the trail on my land, you can see Katahdin,” said David Smith, the Unity fire chief and one of the central players in the Waldo County Trails Coalition’s attempt to build a 50-mile linear trail through several towns here.
Protecting, appreciating and enjoying this landscape are the goals behind this young coalition that is made up of land trusts and outdoor groups, including Unity College and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).
And that goal already has translated into a more than 20-mile hiking trail that has been created in the last two years. The first 6.8 miles of the Hills to Sea Trail opened this summer.
This Saturday a hike led by the coalition will leave from the Hills to Sea Trail’s new kiosk near MOFGA in Unity, and the coalition members will celebrate this trail that winds along the Sandy River hemlock grove and on through rolling farm fields.
“It’s what’s taking place in Europe,” said Buck O’Herin, a board member with the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance and a coalition member.
“I’ve certainly been thinking about it for a while. There was a guy from England who spoke at a local land trust. He talked about how there is a trail that goes all around his country on the coast. Some of us thought, ‘Why don’t we do that?’ ”
The original goal shared by six groups was to link Unity, and the college community there, to Frye Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Montville, but because so many more groups brought energy to the project, the goal has grown. Now there are nine groups involved and the goal is to link Unity to Belfast.
When it’s complete in the next few years, the entire Hills to Sea Trail will reach from Unity to Thorndike, Knox, Freedom, Montville, Waldo and Belfast.
By the time the Waldo County Hills to Sea Trail is complete, it could stretch across as much as 50 miles of private land and land trust easements.
“Right now we’re working on a section between MOFGA and Mt. View High School and between Mt. View and Freedom Village. That will be another six to seven miles,” O’Herin said.
The first 6.8-mile section from MOFGA to downtown Unity runs almost entirely on private land, O’Herin said proudly.
The hope is over time there will be an economic benefit as eco-tourists come to hike, Nordic ski and bird watch, and perhaps stay at farms or country inns. The belief is that locals also will want to enjoy the trail as a community, O’Herin said.
But the trail could do more, locals say, such as strengthen friendships, bond families and build ties among towns.
“We want to get more people in the community outside, getting healthy and, ultimately, to build community resilience by building relationships through the trail,” said Jen Brown with the Unity Barn Raisers, which works on the trails in this community.
Jean English, the trail representative from MOFGA, said it could bring business to small farms, as well as attention to the natural landscape they help preserve.
“It will get people out walking more; in the woods more,” English said. “Hikers might not encounter a farm, but they’ll see a cow or a corn field, and it will run through (MOFGA’s Common Ground) Fair grounds. It will get more exposure.”
As a few members of the Waldo County Trails Coalition walked through the snow along the new 6.8-mile section Friday, they laughed and smiled, even as they tried not to slip in the first snow.
The woods trail is more than a hiking path to these trail blazers; it’s a doorway to adventure and promise.
“It’s a lovely trail that’s energized the different groups. I think they now see what’s possible,” O’Herin said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: