Thursday, May 31, 2007

Waterfront Trail


I’ve gotten into the habit of strolling along Gardiner’s new waterfront trail after the kids’ music class Friday mornings. The trail (which, as far as I can tell, has not been officially named yet) is a short but pleasant walk through the woods along the Kennebec River south of downtown Gardiner. The trail follows an easement through land owned by the State of Maine, parallel to, and down a steep bank from, the railroad tracks and Route 24.

You can access the Kennebec River Rail Trail from the waterfront trail by following Main Avenue from the Waterfront to the north end of the Hannaford parking lot.

Getting There
The head of the trail is rather well-concealed at the far end of a large expanse of dirt that the City recently purchased from Webber Oil through a Land for Maine’s Future grant. Based on the proposed Waterfront Park Expansion Diagram on the City’s website, this brownfield will one day be a park with lawns and an arts pavilion. To access the trail, you can park at the Waterfront on Main Avenue and follow the newly-built timber boardwalk to its south end, and meet the trail just beyond the canoe/kayak launch site. For those with strollers, bikes or disabilities, be aware that the boardwalk drops off a good 18” to trail level. Alternatively, you can park along Water Street and reach the trail via a small alleyway just beyond Bailey’s Garage. This is a somewhat hazardous access point because Water Street’s sidewalks do not extend this far and the alley is used as parking for the garage.

The Trail
Distance: ½ mile (one way)
Hiking Time: ¼ - ½ hour
Difficulty: easy

Once the trail bypasses the brownfield and enters the trees, it becomes a pleasant walk, under a canopy of Norway maples, paper birches and other mixed hardwoods, with intermittent views of the river. The trail is wide and level, surfaced in crushed stone, with lovely granite benches creating resting or reflecting spots at regular intervals. Half a mile south of the Waterfront, the trail ends in a cul-de-sac, with more stone benches around the circle and access to a small sandy beach at low tide. Some traffic noise from Route 27 carries across the water, but birdsong, rustling leaves and lapping water offer a soothing counterpoint.

Kid-Friendly Factor
I love taking my kids here—the smooth level surface makes the waterfront trail ideal for pushing the stroller and the short length makes it manageable for little hikers and beginning bikers. Once you get past the sketchy starting points mentioned above, it’s a nice, safe place for little ones to explore. About halfway down the trail, an old yellow caboose sits along the train tracks just uphill from the trail. I’d love to see it moved down near the trail and renovated into something kids could play in.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Kennebec River Rail Trail, Part 1

Augusta to Hallowell
The birth of the Kennebec River Rail Trail marks Augusta’s entrance into the ranks of cities with riverside recreation trails. When complete, the KRRT will cover 6.5 miles from Gardiner through Farmingdale and Hallowell to Augusta. At this point, two sections are finished: Augusta to Hallowell and Gardiner to Farmingdale. The final, middle section of the trail is scheduled for completion in September 2007. The sheer number of people out jogging, strolling, and biking on any given day attest to how valuable safe, pleasant trails are to our communities.

Getting There
The Augusta-Hallowell section of the Kennebec River Rail Trail can be accessed at three points. The trail’s northernmost terminus opens out into the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot, directly under Memorial Bridge, at the south end of downtown Augusta (this is also the handicap access point to the trail). To reach the second access point, turn onto Union Street just south of Capitol Park and turn right into the parking lots for the ball fields at Capital Park (near the YMCA). To access the trail in Hallowell, park in the lot at the north end of Water Street.

The Trail
Distance: 2 miles
Walking time: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: easy

The Augusta-Hallowell portion of the Kennebec River Rail Trail is surprisingly peaceful, considering it is located only a short distance from State Street. Trees line the trail for most of the distance, and the river bank drops steeply down to the water, affording visitors a view of the Kennebec’s placid waters and the forested east bank, which appears undeveloped most of the way. Aside from the wastewater treatment facility near the Capital Park access point, a few warehouses and some type of abandoned-looking industrial installation near the Hallowell entrance, very little industrial development remains to remind walkers of the railroad’s existence.

The trail is wide, level and paved for the Augusta portion, topped with crushed stone in Hallowell. Because it follows the rail bed, there is very little change in grade the entire distance, the only climbing required is to reach the access points in Hallowell and Capital Park.

Kid-friendly Factor
Thanks to the non-existent grade and wideness of the paths, the rail trail is a great place to push a stroller and for little kids to try out shaky biking skills. Although the trail is well-used, I’ve found most people are extremely tolerant of kids biking in the wrong lane or darting across the pathway unexpectedly.

Getting Involved
To help support the completion of the rail trail, contact the Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Capitol Park


What better place to start a guide to walks in Maine’s capital than at Capitol Park? Situated between the Statehouse and the Kennebec River, Capitol Park is a lovely 20-acre parcel of lawns and trees, offering visitors an impressive view of Maine’s verdigris-domed house of governance. Capitol Park was the first piece of land consciously set aside for public use in Maine. With amazing foresight, Maine’s early government established the park along with the grounds for the Capitol in 1827, when Augusta was established as the seat of governance. According to the state’s website, the park was fenced off from cattle and planted with trees for the purpose of creating a “dignified setting” for viewing the Capitol. Over the years Capitol Park has served many, varied purposes, including camp site and parade ground during the Civil War and leased farmland after the war. The park was restored in 1878 and in 1920 the Governor commissioned the firm of Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect best known for designing New York’s Central Park, to create a plan for the park and surrounding grounds.

Today Capitol Park is indeed a dignified setting for viewing the Capitol, as well as a peaceful escape from the traffic of State Street and the bustle of activity surrounding the Statehouse. Stately oaks, beeches and pines shade quiet pathways and benches and tables offer numerous spots for picnicking or quiet contemplation. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, dedicated in 1985, presides over the northern edge of the park, near Capitol Street, its overlapping wedges of concrete and bronze with cut-out silhouettes of three soldiers providing a haunting tribute to those who served. Other memorials in the park include a granite block dedicated to the victims of 9/11 and an obelisk-topped mausoleum in the northeast corner.

You can access the Kennebec River Rail Trail from Capitol Park via its municipal sister, Capital Park, across Union Street, where the YMCA and ball fields are located.

Getting There
Capitol Park is located on the west side of Augusta, directly across State Street from the Capitol. Parking is available along Capitol and Union Streets, and in the visitor parking lots near the Statehouse and State Library/ Museum/ Archives building.

The TrailsHiking time: ¼ - ½ hour
Difficulty: easy

Visitors can stroll casually along the broad gravel paths that wind around Capitol Park, or break free from the designated avenues and ramble over grassy expanses to explore the trees and monuments nestled throughout the park, or view the Kennebec River from the park’s easternmost edge.

Kid-friendly Factor
Capitol Park is a great place to take kids. The level, gravel paths work well for strollers (those with somewhat more substantial wheels than mall strollers) and are easy for kids to walk on, but the real draw for kids will be the big lawns for them to run around on. The trees and shrubs along the eastern end of the park also offer great hide-and-seek potential.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

When we think of hiking or nature, rarely does Augusta, Maine come to mind. For most of us in central Maine, Augusta is a place to work or to shop at big-box chain stores, but not a place to enjoy the outdoors. For our outdoor adventures we hop in the car and head to Tumbledown, or Baxter, or the Camden Hills, rarely giving a second thought to the hiking possibilities in our own backyards.

But believe it or not, those possibities are out there! Augusta and the surrounding communities boast numerous hiking and walking trails. Some, like the rail trail, are fairly new and well-known. Others have been hiding in quiet anonymity for years. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a long-term resident excalim of a newly-discovered hiking area, "I never even knew this was here!" This blog is a place where I hope to make these hidden little treasures of our capital more well-known, so that hikers and nature lovers can enjoy them, without spending hours in the car getting there.

Over the last few weeks I've rambled over a number of these trails, and the words that most often come to my mind to describe them are "pleasant" and "peaceful." Although many of the trails run near urban, suburban and industrial areas, never far removed from roads, they almost always give me a sense of peace and quiet. It is my hope that as more people become familiar--dare I say in love--with these areas, the support for preserving open space and developing and linking trails will overwhelm the forces in favor of more of the sprawl-mall-style development that seems to be taking over our capital.

I plan on posting at least one hike each week over the next several months. Come back often and get out on the trail!
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