A new foot-and-bike bridge over Mere Brook near the outset of the trail system in Neptune Woods. (Contributed photo)

For area residents September’s an expansive season. Summer’s heat, insects and clotted traffic dissipate, and the sharp air and colors invite us outside. For a number of us that means taking to local trails to walk, wander or ride. That we have also a series of new trails “coming online” marks us as doubly lucky.

Some of those new trails wind through the 64-acre Neptune Woods on the old base, and within days the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority will transfer those woods to the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, who will manage them and their trails for riders, walkers and runners of many speeds and stripes. Celebration will ensue on October 21st at an open woods day. (Check the land trust’s site for developing plans.)

For the land trust and its partners, the redevelopment authority, the Six Rivers Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association and Brunswick’s Recreation Department, this new, mixed-use woodland represents an opportunity to bring advocates for open, public space together. In particular, it offers the chance to educate walkers, runners and cyclists in sharing trails. Success in doing so can translate into broadened public support for access and trail systems. Both land trust and Six Rivers look forward to developing and promoting shared-trail etiquette.

On a recent visit to Neptune Woods, I got to imagine both ways of taking to the trails, even as I stuck to my foot borne habits. I parked in the dirt pull-off on the south side of Neptune Drive and set off into the woods. An old Navy fitness trail threads the early woods, and it has the linear resolve of a track; it is all about getting from A to B, and then on to C. From there a foot path drops down to a stem of Mere Brook, and at the crossing, the Woods’ new design becomes evident.

A well-built, new bridge crosses the brook, and it has a ramp at each end; it is, in short, bike friendly, even as the trail beyond climbs mostly straight toward the Woods’ far side. But then orange flagging alerts me to other possible directions, and I step onto a different sort of trail, one that snakes through the woods.

If you would extract the maximum trail-mileage from an acreage, you might do well to check with your local mountain biking club. At Neptune Woods, Six Rivers and other volunteers have been hard at work and their serpentine trails wind pleasingly and at length through the mixed hard and softwood forest.

As I walk and jog these trails, it becomes clear that they are not about getting from point to point; they are instead about being in motion in the woods for as long as possible. Even with the slowness of my foot travel, I feel a rhythm develop. The trail flows around large trees, rises over bumps and drops into little drainages. It ripples with the land. I feel a bit like water moving.

The few trees cut to open the trail are planned off at ground level so a foot or wheel doesn’t catch there, and the land’s slope is often used to bank the many corners. There are, of course, roots striating the ground: “be here; attend to where you are,” they seem to remind. Wherever the trail reaches a seasonal water course, there’s a new bridge whose slats are spaced to let snow and water drain easily, but not so widely as to catch my toe. These are trails for all seasons and all sorts of foot-powered motion.

And on. The forest itself is mostly of uniform height, suggesting that once, before the base was gathered from private lands, these woods were probably cleared land. Now, the trees are mature enough to create a canopy that blocks out a lot of light and frees the understory of brush. They are appealing, light-checkered woods, and now that I’ve given up resolve to “get there,” I find them a great place to be.

Lee Cataldo, director of programs for the land trust, and Kris Haralson of Six Rivers both cite the joining together of organizations and volunteers as a major plus in the development of Neptune Woods. In a recent e-mail, Haralson wrote, “we were able to build the trails through a partnership between BTLT and our Six Rivers NEMBA chapter, funded by an access health grant from Midcoast Hospital and fully supported by MRRA and the town of Brunswick.” Cataldo summarized all this work precisely: “The power of community partnerships!”

As I’m leaving my walk-and-runthrough, I spot a man with a yellow mountain bike in the nearby parking lot. He’s in the process of afixing his front wheel to the bike as I approach. How did he learn of Neptune Woods, I ask, and it turns out that he had happened on it while walking his dog. “What they’re doing in there is awesome,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get my work done this morning so I could explore on my lunch hour. I could tell quickly that the layout has great flow to it.”

Yes, I think as I drive away, and now, thanks to all those volunteers, a trail runs through it.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident and chair of the town’s Conservation Commission.

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