The Forest City Trail follows a sinuous route across Portland from the southwest corner of the city near Westbrook to its northern edge on the watery boundary shared with Falmouth, a marvelous 10-mile hike made possible by our friends at Portland Trails.
In the mind to celebrate the long overdue onset of warm spring weather with a healthy hike not far from home, I set off with my wife recently to connect the dots of this unique urban walk, one I trust you’ll enjoy as much as we did.
The adventure begins at a parking area at the end of Blueberry Road, which is just off outer Congress Street, not far from Exit 46 of the Maine Turnpike, and ends numerous wonderful hours later next to the roar of a free-flowing Presumpscot River and the falls of the same name.
After the winding corridor of the placid Stroudwater River comes the Fore River Sanctuary and a stroll through the salt marshes along the old Cumberland and Oxford Canal, followed by a woods romp to cascading Jewell Falls. Beyond the pleasant woods and pretty duck ponds of Evergreen Cemetery are Oat Nuts Park and the wilds of the Presumpscot River Preserve.
In between, the trail passes through the neighborhoods and wooded patches of Stroudwater, Nasons Corner, Sagamore Village, Morrills Corner and North Deering.
The trail is the brainchild of Tom Jewell, a Portland native, lawyer and tireless trails advocate, and one of the founders of Portland Trails in 1990.
“It was Tom’s idea to have a cross-city trail,” said Jaime Parker, trails manager with Portland Trails. “He was leading a walk every spring from Stroudwater to the Presumpscot and eventually decided to formalize the route.”
The Forest City Trail was waymarked with blazes, signs and information kiosks, and officially was opened to the public in 2011 to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Portland Trails.
The familiar white blazes we followed on our end-to-end journey made this long-distance hiker pretty nostalgic, and no wonder.
“We think of the Forest City Trail as Portland’s own Appalachian Trail,” said Parker.
Rightly so, for in a 10-mile span the trail navigates an amazing landscape of natural beauty and wealth of human history, from the quiet of the wild places and green spaces, to the sights and sounds of the urban streets and residential areas.
The Forest City Trail is in its own right a microcosm of the Appalachian Trail, a grand experience to be had without ever leaving town, a wonderful gem of a resource to be enjoyed and treasured.
“People really like the trail,” said Parker. “They’re surprised and pleased that they can hike so far within the city limits.”
The Forest City Trail forms the spine of the Portland Trails network, with its many other shorter trails serving as the arms.
The network, which long ago surpassed its original 30-mile goal, reached 50 miles just three years ago and now exceeds an impressive 70 miles.
“We just extended the Stroudwater Trail 1.25 miles west to Spring Street last year,” Parker said. “And this year we’re going a little further to Smiling Hill Farm.”
Portland Trails has funding to explore the feasibility of a bridge over the Stroudwater River halfway between the Turnpike and Spring Street, an exciting possibility that would forge a connection to trails leading to downtown Westbrook.
Asked about any plans to extend the Forest City Trail, Parker said, “No, we like the nice round 10 miles number, but we will extend the trails that could link to it.”
For your hike, spot a car or bikes at one end, or call a taxi to return to your car like we did.
To plan your own Forest City Trail hike and get a copy of “Portland Trails: Trails, Parks & Open Spaces,” the map and guide to 31 area trails, visit www.trails.org or call 775-2411.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is working on a new book about Maine coast trails. Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at mainetoday.com/blog/maineiac-outdoors.