John Barlow Hudson’s “Sublime Portal Whispering Stones” in Hancock, is one of 31 roadside sculptures along Maine Sculpture Trail. Carey Kish photo

At the junction of U.S. Route 1 and Point Road in Hancock, 8 miles east of Ellsworth, there’s a pretty green triangle of a park with a gazebo and several war monuments. Across the way, next to the town hall, is a large sculpture – two pillars of granite topped with a capstone – a piece by John Barlow Hudson that’s called “Sublime Portal: Whispering Stones.”

Hudson’s work, one of 31 roadside sculptures along the Maine Sculpture Trail, is an aptly named portal of sorts to a small bounty of conservation lands and 15 miles of hiking trails on Crabtree Neck, beginning directly across Point Road with the Old Pond Railway Trail.

The Old Pond Railway Trail in Hancock features nice views of Old Pond and the Skillings River. Carey Kish photo

It was this time last year, in the early days of the pandemic, when I first explored the hiking trails on Crabtree Neck. With the Acadia National Park paths near my home busy as if it were high summer, I was looking for a new place to wander that might offer an extra measure of solitude but not be too far away. The map for the Railway Trail had been stuck to the refrigerator all winter, so it was off to Hancock for a good look around.

The Old Pond Railway Trail follows an abandoned railway bed for close to 3 miles to the Kilkenny Cove Preserve, then a short spur out to Old Route 1. Doubling back from this point makes it a 6-mile trek overall. Taking advantage of perfect blue skies with temps in the 40s, I enjoyed every step, except for a few stumbles on some of the old wooden ties that still line the route.

The Old Pond Railway Trail is a collaborative effort of the Crabtree Neck Land Trust, which owns the 23-acre corridor, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Frenchman Bay Conservancy, owner of the 8-acre Kilkenny Cove Preserve. Valuable assistance was provided by the Land for Maine’s Future program, which has helped protect 600,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands since 1987.

An old ice pond is the highlight of a walk through the Ice Pond Preserve in Hancock. Carey Kish photo

In just under a mile, the Old Pond Railway Trail crosses a railroad trestle separating Old Pond and the Skillings River. The strong inbound tidal current rushed under the bridge toward Carrying Place Inlet and Taunton Bay; nothing I’d wish to try to buck in a sea kayak but standing above watching the flow was quite entertaining. At least 10 loons were bobbing in the river, a sure sign of spring as I continued across the impressive earthen berm and into the woods beyond.

History abounds along the path, from the old ties and sections of rusted track to wire fencing and drill cores in the jagged rock where the grade was blasted through. As I plodded further, my mind churned. With two bars of cell service, I did an internet search on the spot. Yes indeed, as I’d begun to suspect, this very ground was part of the former Maine Shore Line Railroad, which operated from 1884 to 1931.

Remains of the former Maine Shore Line Railroad can be found along the Old Pond Railway Trail. Carey Kish photo

Part of the Maine Central Railroad – known also as the Mount Desert Limited and later the Bar Harbor Express – the train carried wealthy summer visitors, or “rusticators,” from Philadelphia, New York and Boston along this spur line to McNeil Point in Hancock, where they boarded a steamer for the 12-mile cruise to Bar Harbor. The line ran seven trains a day, seven days a week during those Gilded Age summers, until the automobile, the new bridge connecting Mount Desert Island to the mainland at Trenton and the Great Depression finally forced its demise. Founded in 2005, Crabtree Neck Land Trust (crabtreenecklandtrust.org) owns five other properties, all of which can be accessed from Hancock Point Road (signed locally as “Point Road”), between U.S. Route 1 and Hancock Point.

The 42-acre Ice Pond Preserve features a lovely little pond and 2 miles of hiking on three trails, while farther south is Pettengill Preserve, a 167-acre property that sports 2 miles of paths leading through mossy coniferous forest. Sam Ball Woods Preserve and Ball Field Preserve are connecting properties totaling 83 acres of meadows and woods with just over 2 miles of pleasant walking. Finally, you can stride along Carter’s Beach, then duck into the Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s Salt Pond Preserve before looping back on quiet roads for a fine 2-mile circuit.

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 [email protected]


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