Driving home to the Portland area from Sunday River late this ski season, I found myself on a GPS-dictated detour.

Rather than my usual ramble along Route 26 past the eastern shores of South Pond and Bryant Pond, I found myself on the scenic, winding Greenwood Road. It’s a worthy detour, winding past Twitchell, Hicks and Mud ponds, as well as Maggie’s Nature Park on the way from Locke Mills to Norway.

After 15 miles of rural, two-lane road, Greenwood Road meets Route 118 on the southern end of Pennesseewassee Lake. Stopping at a rest stop between Roberts Road and Crockett Ridge Road that looked like a simple parking pull-off, I was pleasantly surprised to find a trailhead for the Roberts Farm Preserve. Little did I know that beyond this rest stop was a 165-acre preserve, with a network of over 7 miles of trails, including multiuse and universally accessible routes.

Roberts Farm Preserve is a conservation and recreation project of the Western Foothills Land Trust, on the grounds of a farm that was built in the late 1700s. Just over a decade ago, the land trust negotiated for the preserve’s purchase after an effort in the early 2000s to develop the land into a technology park never materialized.

The preserve now supports four-season recreation. Community partnerships ensure that it’s a place for children in the Oxford Hills School District to engage in interactive learning, from leadership and natural-science skills to garden maintenance.

While you can enter the preserve from the parking area on Route 118, the “real” trailhead and parking for Roberts Farm are about a quarter-mile down Roberts Road. A warming hut and info center abut the parking area, and from here trails extend to the south and east.

The Libby Trail is a good starting point: a universally accessible trail that meanders a bit over a half-mile to a scenic overlook of Pennesseewassee Lake. Another good option is the Rust Trail, which crosses a number of small streams and takes hikers past the historic Pike-Roberts house, the learning center and the large garden housed in the preserve. For more of a workout, the Stephens Trail follows the outer boundary of the preserve. With a handful of pitches that are rated as black diamonds during ski season, the route offers some strenuous climbs that the others lack.

The trails are charmingly named for notable residents from the surrounding community. The Libby Trail is named for Minnie F. Libby, who was the town photographer in Norway for some 60 years. The Dunham Trail, which connects the parking area on Route 118 to the rest of the preserve, takes its name from snowshoe craftsman Mellie Dunham, who outfitted Admiral Peary for his Arctic expedition. Author and Bowdoin graduate C. A. Stephens gives his name to the Stephens Trail, the longest in the network.

During the winter, the trails are popular for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Amazingly, the warming hut at the head of the trails offers free loans of snowshoes and ski equipment (though donations are welcome, of course). The warming hut is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends during the colder months.

The scenic Libby Trail is named for Minnie F. Libby, who was the town photographer in Norway for some 60 years. Josh Christie photo

Founded over three decades ago, the Western Foothills Land Trust “protects farmlands, wetlands, forestlands, natural resources and open spaces in the foothills of the Oxford Hills region.”

The organization protects more than 7,000 acres around the Oxford Hills, with a mix of fee lands and easements. Like many of the great land trusts and preservation organizations in Maine, Western Foothills is a member of both the Maine Land Trust Network and the national Land Trust Alliance.

A number of the parcels protected by the land trust have trails for hikers to explore. Just across Pennesseewassee Lake from the Roberts Farm Preserve, the contiguous Witt Swamp and Shepard’s Farm preserves offer trails through white cedar swamps, pasture and woodlands. To the east, in Buckfield, a two-mile trail, the Packard Trail, in the Virgil Parris Forest skirts South Pond and offers view of a handful of waterfalls. Another trail, the Lowell Trail, is being developed on the eastern side of South Pond. Greenwood’s Noyes Mountain Preserve has three miles of trails. Hatch Preserve – on Waterford’s Hawk Mountain – is home to a short trail with gorgeous views, as is the Twin Bridges Preserve in Otisfield.

More information on all of the land trust’s projects and events – along with more detailed directions to its trails – can be found at wfltmaine.org.

Now that we’re transitioning into hiking season, the mountains of western Maine beckon. Rather than speed through the foothills of Norway and the Oxford Hills, I recommend stopping to explore the protected land in those hills.

While not as taxing as the bigger peaks, the peace and history of these places offer a reward of their own.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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