A bench overlooking Knight’s Pond in Cumberland. Knight’s Pond Reserve contains three hikes as part of Royal River Conservation Trust’s new 400-Footer Club. Carey Kish photo

Knight’s Pond is a 46-acre expanse of wetland in the woods north of Greely Road Extension in Cumberland. The pond is reached by an easy quarter-mile hike, part of a color-coded 6-mile network of trails that take in much of the shoreline as well as three little hilltops nearby.

In early summer, I stopped by to see the pond once owned by Mr. Knight, a well-known local man who had always allowed public access to this 215-acre property for hiking and ice skating and for Boy Scout camping trips. Knight’s daughter offered the parcel for sale as conservation land in 2015, and it was subsequently purchased by the town of Cumberland.

Since then, 115 surrounding acres have been added through acquisition and easement thanks to the town of Yarmouth, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust and the Royal River Conservation Trust.

The pond and the bench at the outlet dam were pretty indeed, but it was the lofty peaks of the preserve I’d really come for: Bobcat Mountain (350 feet), Bruce Hill (447 feet) and Blueberry Hill (451 feet), all part of Royal River Conservation Trust’s new 400-Footer Club.

Seasoned peak-baggers know there are many such climbing challenge lists, like the Appalachian Mountain Club’s New Hampshire 4,000-Footers, New England 4,000-Footers and New England Hundred Highest. There are numerous other similar lists, never mind that you can be recognized for doing each peak in winter, from every compass direction, in every month of the year, and perhaps even backwards while juggling.

But a 400-Footer Club?

When I got wind of the RRCT’s introduction to the area’s “favorite high-elevation outdoor destinations” on social media last spring, I laughed out loud and said to myself, “How absolutely brilliant.”

Alan Stearns is the executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust and someone who is always looking for new ways to get people outside. Stearns concocted the idea of a 400-Footer Club as a new and different way to attract and educate the public about the many and varied conservation successes in the area just north of Portland.

“We modeled our ‘club’ after the AMC’s 4,000-footers, using the clever name as a hook,” said Stearns. “It’s a mix of 10 of special places, mostly very small hills all around 400 feet in elevation, on RRCT property or on properties where we have a role with other partner organizations. You don’t really need to know who owns the land, only that you’re invited to enjoy it.”

On the trail to the 400-foot Reservoir Mountain at Pineland Public Land in Gray. Carey Kish photo

From Knight’s Pond, I trundled over to Gray and the 600-acre Pineland Public Land, where I climbed Reservoir Mountain (400 feet) over the course of lovely 3-mile lollipop loop hike, part of a conservation corridor with trails that extends all the way to Bradbury Mountain in Pownal.

By this time, I’d noticed that Reservoir, Blueberry and Bobcat didn’t appear on my USGS topographic map, and ever curious, I asked Stearns, who admitted the names were a bit contrived.

Reservoir Mountain is named for the nearby water tower for the Pineland Center, while Blueberry is what local folks have called the peak for years. As for Bobcat Mountain, “I just made it up,” Stearns said, noting than an RRCT board member had once photographed a bobcat on the hill.

The Royal River Conservation Trust’s 400-Footer Club includes the ever-popular Bradbury Mountain (469 feet). There’s also Tryon Mountain in Pownal and Pisgah Hill in New Gloucester, 390 feet and 381 feet respectively, but over 400 feet of elevation “with trees.” Libby Hill rises to 452 feet in Libby Hill Forest in Gray, where there’s a fine 9-mile trail system.

Little Hill (531 feet) is the only bushwhack, and while a trail there is likely in the future, meantime “it’s a good place to test your navigation skills,” Stearns noted. Just west of Sabbathday Pond in Poland is Shaker Bog, and although it isn’t a hill at all, it does lie at an elevation of 446 feet and is worthy of a good look around.

Check off all 10 of the RRCT 400-Footers and you’ll have covered nearly 19 miles and gained over 2,200 feet of elevation, an admirable challenge indeed and good for many pleasant hours of exploration. Royal River Conservation Trust asks that all hikers act as good trail stewards, practice Leave No Trace, and respect the diversity of trail users and uses out there. For more info, visit rrct.org

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


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