The hike up Knox Mountain in Newfield follows old stone walls. Carey Kish photo

In the northwest corner of York County, 6 miles shy of the New Hampshire state line as the crow flies, are a couple of mountains that don’t get much attention beyond the local hiking community. Perhaps that’s because rather than formal trails on Abbott Mountain in Shapleigh and Knox Mountain in Newfield, there’s only a network of old forest roads and jeep tracks.

Abbott Mountain (1,078 feet) and Knox Mountain (830 feet) are both part of the Vernon S. Walker Wildlife Management Area, a 5,617-acre chunk of upland forests and wetlands that are devoted primarily to critter habitat. Recreational uses like hiking, birding, hunting, fishing and summer and winter motorized uses, however, are certainly compatible and encouraged.

You’ll find lots of room to roam at Vernon Walker and plenty of reward for your efforts. What you won’t find are maintained trails with signs and markers, formal trailhead parking, kiosks, posted maps or anything of the sort. Some hikers may be deterred by this, but I find it to be the central allure, and hope you and your exploring heart will as well.

“We don’t have the staff to work on trails, or to build or maintain them. It’s not a park, it’s a wildlife management area,” explained Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the agency that oversees 103,000 acres of wildlife management areas across the state. “We maintain habitat and work to improve it.”

Two miles east of Newfield via Route 11, there’s a turnout on the south side of the road immediately across from the east end of Symmes Pond. Here, the route to Knox Mountain begins as an obscure paint-blazed boundary line before morphing into a rolling track.

Just less than a mile in length, the Knox hike will lead you by lovely old stone walls before climbing on bedrock along a narrowing ridge to the summit ledges. Fine views of the surrounding Little Ossipee River valley countryside may be enjoyed from this vantage point.

An obvious square cut in the bedrock is found on the summit of Knox Mountain in Newfield. Carey Kish photo

Just below the top of Knox, there’s an obvious square-angled cut in the rock to the right of the trail. I figured it to be evidence of quarrying long ago, but Lindsay couldn’t confirm it. Take a look when you visit and let me know what you think.

For Abbott Mountain, from its junction with Route 11 in Shapleigh, head north on Owl’s Nest Road for three miles. Where the pavement ends, continue on to Pitts Road and park at the roadside. From this point, per the request of the landowner, it’s “foot and hoof” only up Pitts Road.

Continue straight ahead into the woods on the forest road. A half-mile along, bear left onto a rocky, eroded jeep track and soon pass a small pond. Beyond, an ATV trail diverges left from the jeep road and climbs steeply at times up a series of ledges. At the peak, good views of the surrounding woodlands expand west to the White Mountains. Another viewpoint ledge can be found 100 yards to the north.

The town of Newfield was decimated by the great fires of October 1947, which burned more than 200,000 acres across York County as well as some 18,000 acres on Mount Desert Island. Many homes and businesses were destroyed by the blaze, which also incinerated vast acreages of timberland and farmland. The devastation forced many residents to abandon their lands and lives in the region and move away.

The bulk of the lands that comprise the Vernon S. Walker Wildlife Management Area were acquired after the 1947 fire, beginning in the early 1950s to about 1980. Small parcels and inholdings continue to be added as area landowners offer their properties for public use.

“The fire made it possible to acquire the land, the one positive result of that very unfortunate event,” said Lindsay, who noted that as the population of York County continues to grow, large conservation lands like Vernon Walker become ever more valuable to both wildlife and humans. “There’s only so much land, and we’re protecting it for the future,” Lindsay added.

As for Vernon S. Walker himself, he was a local resident and former game warden. His family’s land was one the early purchases made by the state for what would become the Newfield Wildlife Management Area, which was renamed in honor of Walker in 1985.

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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