Thursday, April 17, 2014
Twenty miles east of Bangor on Route 9 in the sparsely populated town of Amherst is where you’ll find the Amherst Mountains Community Forest. This 4,974-acre tract of forestland encompasses six ponds, miles of streams, significant wetlands, a jumble of granite hills and ledges, and a half-dozen miles of hiking trails.
After more than a century of stable ownership by paper companies, the large block of property that is now AMCF was sold three times in six years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Local citizens concerned about the threat of its development and the potential loss of traditional recreational access enlisted the support of the state and the Forest Society of Maine to help preserve the parcel.
After a long and complicated process that spanned six years, the forest was finally protected in 2009. Under a rather unique community forest agreement, the state and the town of Amherst, with technical assistance from the Society, share responsibility for managing the forest for multiple goals, including recreational activities like hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, as well as sustainable timber harvesting, wildlife habitat and preservation of critical ecosystems.
The Amherst Forest is an important component of a much larger, landscape-scale regional conservation initiative known as the Lower Penobscot Forest Project. A partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Forest Society of Maine and the state, the initiative seeks to conserve some 42,000 acres of undeveloped land in a corridor stretching north and west to the Penobscot River, and east to the Union River.
Hikers will delight in the two hiking routes that penetrate the remote back country, both of which can easily be done in a day’s visit.
For a great 4-mile loop walk, combine the Ducktail and Partridge Pond trails. Start from the Ducktail Pond trailhead at Indian Camp Brook and head westward on the blue-blazed trail, which follows Ducktail Brook to the outlet of Ducktail Pond.
Bear left here and hop down over a ledge to cross along the edge of the pond, then navigate to the obvious large boulders and campsite. There are no blue markers from the outlet to the Partridge Pond Trail, but the old ATV trail is easily followed.
The bedrock trail soon bears away from Ducktail Pond in a semi-open forest of red and white pines. Arrive at a T-junction and turn right onto Partridge Pond Trail. Ahead at a signed Y-junction, bear right through the rich green forest, trending gently uphill.
After a long sidewalk-like ledge, reach the outlet of Partridge Pond and an 8-foot waterfall. Cross above the falls and pass through a small clearing (campsite) to reach the sloping granite beach on the pond shore, a fine spot for lunch.
To continue, retrace your steps to the Partridge Pond-Ducktail Pond trails intersection. Continue on the Partridge Pond Trail out to Ducktail Pond Road. Turn left and follow the road back to the car.
Complete your adventure by tackling Bald Bluff Mountain, a 2-mile out-and-back hike that leads to several pleasant ledge outlooks featuring views south and west.
The Amherst Mountains Community Forest is found 1.5 miles west of the junction of Route 9 and Route 181 in Amherst. A blue sign marks the somewhat obscure entrance road, which leads to trailhead parking for Partridge Pond at 1.8 miles, Ducktail Pond at Indian Camp Brook at 4.1 miles and Bald Bluff at the end of the road at 6.0 miles from the highway.
The forest is open year-round, but the road into the interior trailheads is not plowed in winter. Dogs are allowed. No trail map is available, but the Forest Society has some good information on AMCF at www.fsmaine.org.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Send comments and hike suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org