Friday, December 6, 2013
The scenic hills and farmlands of Montville are located roughly 15 miles west of Belfast and Penobscot Bay, sandwiched between Route 137 to the north and Route 3 to the south. Travel the rural roads of this quiet little community and you would never know that it contains a wealth of conservation lands and hiking trails, but it's true.
The Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network is a 15-mile system of public hiking trails that lead through pleasant forests and open fields along winding streams and pretty marshes.
Carey Kish photo
Since 1991, the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance has been quietly working to preserve ecologically significant lands in the watershed of the upper Sheepscot River, which begins its 54-mile journey to the ocean in the hills of western Montville. To date, the group has successfully protected more than 1,350 contiguous acres on 15 properties through outright purchase and conservation easements.
Along the way, SWLA has created the Sheepscot Headwaters Trail Network, an amazing 15-mile system of public hiking trails that lead through pleasant forests and open fields, along winding streams and pretty marshes, and to the high points of Whitten Hill and Goose Ridge. A spur trail connects to nearby Hogback and Frye mountains and an additional 11 miles of hiking on trails maintained by Georges River Land Trust.
For a good introduction to the area, try the Northern Headwaters Trail, a 3.5-mile loop hike that leaves from the main trailhead on Halldale Road, where there is ample parking and an information kiosk with maps. I visited this trail recently with a group from the Maine Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and had a wonderful time. Pack a picnic lunch and turn your hike into a stroll; it's a lovely walk worth savoring.
The path climbs easily to the ridgeline on Whitten Hill, where it follows the long line of a beautiful stone wall. Glimpses of surrounding hills can be had through openings in the fragrant pines en route. Beyond an old foundation and apple orchard, you'll descend to meet the Sheepscot River, here just a small stream. Following the east bank of the river, placid at first and then gurgling, the trail weaves through a mature forest of big trees and passes some artifacts of days gone by: pieces of old stove, a saw blade and bits of rusted farm machinery. Leaving the Sheepscot, the trail rises to a huge field with extensive views across the valley to the west. Re-entering the woods, you'll tread gently uphill to complete the loop.
If you're up for more hiking, well, you're in luck. You can follow Whitten Hill Trail across Halldale Road and then circumnavigate a large marsh by way of Bog Brook Trail. Part way along, if you wish, branch north on the Hogback Connector and Hemlock Hollow trails, then circle back over Whitten Hill. Or drive just up the road to spot cars, and then enjoy nearly 4 miles of fine striding over Goose Ridge, with terrific views from several sweeping fields. With 10 trails to choose from, there are lots of great possibilities.
The good folks at SWLA envision "a contiguous protected area of more than 10,000 acres that includes working woodlands, forever wild lands, wetlands and fields that connect the Sheepscot headwaters with the 5,240-acre Frye Mountain Wildlife Management Area," according to the organization's colorful brochure and map. So clearly there is more conservation work to be done.
SWLA, like all Maine land trusts, relies on the generous financial support of members and others interested in a stake in their success, plus lots of volunteers to help with trail work and myriad other tasks that always need doing.
If you like what you see when you visit SWLA lands, perhaps you too will get involved in some way.
For more information, as well as a calendar of naturalist walks, family hikes, paddling excursions and other fun events, go to www.swlmaine.org or call 589-3230.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the new AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Comments are welcome at: