From Ingalls Pond on Maine Route 113, a couple miles south of Hiram village, travelers are afforded a good look at the southeastern flanks of Mt. Cutler, which rises 800 feet above the Saco River Valley. This hiker almost always pulls over to enjoy the fine view of the mountain, which has finally, officially, been preserved as public land.

Hikers from near and far have been scaling 1,232-foot Mt. Cutler, well, for a long time, at least since a local country doctor named Lowell “Bud” Barnes cut the first trail up to the Front Ledges in the 1950s. With vistas from its craggy summit ridgeline ranging from Casco Bay to the White Mountains, it’s no wonder that trampers come back again and again to enjoy some quality time on this modest-sized peak.

Shafts of bright sunlight were thrusting through dark gray clouds when I last visited Mt. Cutler a little over a year ago, a pleasantly warm and still colorful late October morning perfect for a hike. I pulled into the trailhead parking lot at the site of the old Maine Central Railroad Depot, and here I met my friend Dan Hester, just as we’d planned.

Conservationist Dan Hester at the junction of North Trail and Moraine Link on Mt. Cutler. Photo by Carey Kish

Hester grew up in Hiram in the 1950s and ’60s, and along with his adventurous friends, considered Mt. Cutler and the Saco River their own personal playgrounds. Later on, as a teacher at Sacopee Valley High School, Dan and members of his student hiking club, the “Sacopee Diehard Hikers,” developed a 4-mile network of trails on Mt. Cutler (with permission of the private landowner, of course) over time.

Years later, in 2007, Hester learned that 170 acres on Mt. Cutler was up for sale. Given his strong ties to and abiding love for the mountain, and seriously concerned about the possibility of development and the loss of public access, the conservation-minded Hiram resident took an enormous personal risk and cobbled together the necessary funds to purchase the parcel.

Hester briefed me on recent efforts to permanently protect Mt. Cutler and the steps remaining to see the project through to completion, then drove me around to the north side of the mountain so I could do a fun 4-mile circuit that would connect six different trails.

Hester’s goal for the Mt. Cutler property had been clear: to establish a Mt. Cutler Park and Conservation Area, which would be owned by the Town of Hiram and “maintained for public access for hiking, sightseeing, hunting, nature study and educational programs.” Further, “this green spot on the map should benefit the town by drawing more visitors and encouraging development of more visitor-oriented business.”

Conservation, it seems, is hardly ever a straight-line process, but through the hard work and determined efforts of Hester, town officials and the townspeople of Hiram, and many, many other supporters, plus an all-important and significant Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and some added assistance from The Nature Conservancy, ownership of the Mt. Cutler property was transferred to the Town of Hiram in June 2018.

As I sauntered along North Trail and then veered left onto White Flag Trail out to the Front Ledges, I pondered this conservation success story under my boots, the latest piece in an extraordinary puzzle of more than 4 million acres of land across the state of Maine now protected through either outright acquisition or permanent easement.

Carey Kish enjoys the fine southeasterly view from the ledges on the summit ridge of Mt. Cutler. Photo by Carey Kish

The view from the Front Ledges over Hiram village and the Saco River is a really sweet one, and I enjoyed it just as Dr. Barnes must have so long ago. Joining the Barnes Trail and the Ridge Walk, I weaved lazily through glades of ironwood, oak and ash and patches of hemlock, stopping often to stand and stare from the extensive outcrops and ledges before dropping down into the forest below and returning to my car.

Since my last visit, volunteers from the Hiram Conservation Committee, using grant money from the Maine Community Foundation, have overseen construction of a new main trailhead parking area on Hiram Hill Road, built a mile of new trails that now allow for several loop hikes, and erected new signage. All good news and a perfect excuse to return to Mt. Cutler for another look around the place.

Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and author/editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @ Carey Kish.


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