NORRIDGEWOCK — When Marc and Lyra Collard bought their 140-acre property on Wilder Hill Road in 2012, they dreamed of long walks through the woods and grassy pastures in a quiet spot where few cars pass by and the road turns to dirt just a short distance away.

For the last four years they have enjoyed their rambles through the property so much that they thought others might too.

With the help of their family, they started building trails along the fields and through the woods outside their home, which is close to the Smithfield town line; and on Saturday they will open the trails, known as the Wilder Hill Trails, to the public.

“We thought about what we wanted for ourselves, and then we thought if we’re going to do it, why not put in a little extra effort and make it something bigger that the whole community can enjoy?” said Marc Collard, 37, a former Skowhegan Area High School mathematics teacher turned stay-at-home dad.

“We thought about doing it just for us – I know I don’t always want to walk on the road – but it seemed like it would be neat to also offer it to people in the community who don’t have the land that we do,” said Lyra Collard, 32, a nurse practitioner at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and Waterville.

The couple recently was awarded a $5,000 Move More Kids Community Grant from the New Balance Foundation, an initiative of the athletic shoe manufacturer aimed at preventing childhood obesity. The company operates a facility about 4 miles away in downtown Norridgewock. Part of the grant criteria is that the selected projects must serve communities where New Balance is located.

To celebrate the opening, free community walks are planned for 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday beginning at the trail parking area, which is just down the road from the Collards’ residence at 588 Wilder Hill Road.

“It’s convenient to town, so anyone could come over here on a quick break from work or after work,” said Matt L’Italien, assistant project director for Somerset Public Health, a community health organization that administers the Move More Kids grant in Somerset County. “Norridgewock in particular could use some more opportunities for people to be active.”

Only 37 percent of the population in Somerset County has access to adequate organized exercise opportunities, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings, an annual survey of health factors and outcomes by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on community health issues. The organization also reported that 34 percent of Somerset County adults are obese and 28 percent are physically inactive.

“I think the uniqueness of the model is what impressed us,” L’Italien said of the Wilder Hill Trails. “It’s their land and they’re willing to share it with people from the community. I think that’s unique and something we’d like to see more people do.”

The grant helped pay for a wood chipper, which Marc Collard and his brother in-law, Tyrell Love, a teacher at Madison Area Memorial High School, already have put to use in building the trails.

So far they have completed a small section of wooded trails and will have a 1.5-mile loop around the property ready by Saturday’s opening. Eventually, the Collards hope to have 10 miles of trails through their woods in addition to the 1.5-mile perimeter loop.

The trails are open to all nonmotorized activities such as running, walking and bicycling; but are not open to all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles. In the winter the Collards hope to groom the trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and they are looking for a snowmobile and groomer to perform winter trail maintenance.

The trails are free to use and can be used by anyone, including people from outside Norridgewock.

“There aren’t that many places in America where you can get away from cars,” said Marc Collard, observing the almost eerie quiet of the location. “People can bring a bike or just go for a walk. We’re just trying to do what we can to get people outside and promote being healthy.”

Anyone with questions on the trails or an interest in helping to build or maintain them can contact the Collards at [email protected]


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