There are many miles of walking and hiking trails within the city limits of Bangor. From the banks of the Penobscot River downtown to the heavily wooded outskirts there’s a lot to explore, a bounty of natural beauty essentially hidden away because it doesn’t get a lot of fanfare.
Many of those miles are familiar to this hiker, having tramped just about every foot of every possible path and explored nearly every wooded acre in town during my rambunctious teenage years.
Those were good times, indeed, when we kids were always outside and off somewhere checking out our far-ranging neighborhood, especially after we got bikes. Gone from sunrise to suppertime, we’d return home dirty and scratched up and bug-bitten, but happy and content as could be.
A lot of the woods I used to roam are still there just as wild as ever. I never knew or cared who owned them back then, but today I know that much of it is and has been owned by the city of Bangor, 900 acres all told, according to Tracy Willette, director of parks and recreation.
At 680 acres, the City Forest is the largest parcel and offers nine miles of multiuse trails. There’s also the 70 acres and nearly three miles of trails of Essex Woods, which features Essex Street Hill, a popular sledding spot that also offers nice views over the east side of Bangor. And Prentiss Woods behind Bangor High sports a three-mile network of paths.
“The City Forest and Essex Woods are both parts of old city landfills that were capped and covered,” said Willette. Given the thick forest cover on both properties you’d never know it, but then nature does have a pretty good knack for repairing itself over time.
Much of the credit for the municipal trail system goes to Roland Perry, the former city forester who took a keen interest in trail development.
“Perry got the trails and signage in place with assistance from the Forestry Division, Public Works and Parks and Recreation about 15 years ago,” noted Willette. “He also saw the need for single-track mountain bike trails in the City Forest and Essex Woods.”
In Bangor recently for a holiday gathering with old friends, I decided it was time again to visit some of the old haunts, to show my wife a few of the spots I used to wander in the wilderness of my youth. Of course, it was the most frigid day of the winter to date, but no matter, we bundled up and enjoyed every step.
Our first hike was on the Kenduskeag Stream Trail, which begins in the heart of downtown and follows the surprisingly wild river corridor for 2.5 miles to Kenduskeag Stream Park, passing the jagged cliffs of Lover’s Leap. Kenduskeag Stream has its source 36 miles to the northwest at Garland Pond and is noted for the popular canoe race every April.
Brown’s Woods on outer Ohio Street was our next stop. This 28-acre patch of forest was definitely my favorite when I was a kid, it being so close to my house. There were no formal trails then, only the ones we made ourselves. Today a nearly mile-long trail loops through the woods of mature white pines and hemlocks. It’s a pleasant half-hour stroll and a peaceful one at that.
“Our trails, we’re seeing more use than ever,” Willette said. “More and more new people are getting out there.”
Make the trek on up to Bangor with your day pack, hiking boots, skis and snowshoes, and you’re sure to enjoy a fun day outside exploring the urban woods.
The city-owned woods and trails are just part of the picture, and I’ll explore the extensive Bangor Land Trust trails in a future column. Find trail maps for both at www.bangorlandtrust.com.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Find “Carey Kish” on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CareyKish.