September 11, 2011

Hiking: Branch out from Common Ground to explore Unity's trails

By Carey Kish

Unity is a pretty, quiet town most of the year. Fields, farms, woodlands, Unity Pond, a nice village center, Unity College; all a little off the beaten path 13 miles east of Fairfield and the Kennebec River as the crow flies; a touch longer by Route 139.

click image to enlarge

The Connor Mill Trail offers a 3-mile loop next to Sandy Stream in Unity, where the Common Ground Country Fair takes place Sept. 23 to 25.

Carey Kish photo

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TO FIND OUT more about the fair, go to www.commongroundcountryfair.com or call 568-4142.

FOR A MAP of Unity trails, go to www.unitybarnraisers.org/trails.

Come late September, when the Common Ground Country Fair gets cooking, however, the place comes alive in a major way, drawing some 65,000 fairgoers over three days.

The event celebrates Maine's rural and agricultural traditions and is packed with activities, exhibits, events, workshops, food and more.

But with tens of thousands of people milling about, it can be a little overwhelming. And that's why I made a pre-fair trek up that way recently to check out some of the local hiking trails as a way for folks to escape the hubbub for a while and enjoy some of the rural scenes on foot.

But more on that in a moment.

The fair features 30 areas, from agricultural demonstrations, composting and recycling, health and healing, energy and shelter to an exhibition hall, a farmers' market, a fleece tent, low-impact forestry demos and Native American arts.

Activities and events include a donkey and mule show, draft horse show, the Harry S. Truman Memorial Manure Toss and sheep dog demonstrations.

"It's very unique. At its heart it's an agricultural celebration, but the spirit is adventurous," said Jim Ahearne, fair director with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association. "The fair has all the elements of a traditional country fair, but mixes in a lot of things that touch people's daily lives."

Focusing on the traditions of the agricultural harvest and rural living, the fair also explore new ideas and technologies, and creates a forum for exchange between the more than 700 vendors and exhibitors and the visitors.

"The fair is very much a creation of your neighbors," Ahearne explained. "Almost all of the vendors and exhibitors live and work right here in Maine."

As much as it is an educational experience, the fair is also a big community gathering of sorts.

"It's a great chance to find out what's going on in our own backyard, about who's doing what with regard to organic farming, greening the environment, sustainable living and the like," said Ahearne.

While there's no midway at the fair, there's still plenty to entertain the kids in the special children's area, like a garden parade, face painting, storytelling, music, dancing, magic shows and puppets.

A big draw, of course, is the great variety of vendors who will keep you fueled up with delicious foods made with locally sourced ingredients, organically grown and raised in Maine.

When you decide it's time to break away, leave your car parked where it is, hop on your bike and pedal into Unity proper. There you'll find the CommUnity Trail System, eight trails that offer close to 10 miles of hiking.

The Connor Mill Trail leaves ME 9/US 202 just southwest of the village center. Look for an information kiosk on the side of the road and park. The trail is a nice 3-mile loop next to the placid waters of Sandy Stream.

Immediately across the road is a connector trail leading through a field to the Unity College Forest and a network of footpaths. The forest serves as an outdoor classroom for environmental education where students learn about small woodlot forestry, forest ecology, recreation management and more.

At the Field of Dreams recreation area, with its ball fields, tennis and basketball courts and a playground, a 1-mile loop trail around the perimeter makes a nice walk for the whole family.

Be sure to visit the tiny beach area on Unity Pond, where you can take a swim or launch a canoe or kayak for some paddling fun.

Other trails in town include a section of the East Coast Greenway, CommUnity Bikeway, Triplet Park Nature Trail, Bartlett Shore Trail and Fairgrounds Loop Trail. For a sweet scenic tour, try riding your bike the 15 miles around Unity Pond.

So plan on a visit to the Common Ground Country Fair Sept. 23-25 to take in all this unique venue has to offer. And be sure to pack your hiking boots, daypack and bicycle for some extra exploring around this scenic corner of Maine. 

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at:

MaineOutdoors@aol.com

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