Unlike the indoor nature centers you may familiar with, you know the kind in a cozy little building decked out as a hands-on museum with fish tanks and mounted animals, the Augusta Nature Education Center is truly a natural center, set completely in the outdoors, covering 175 acres of woods, fields, ponds and streams. Operated by the Augusta Nature Club since 1919, the Center offers more than five miles of trails that can be linked together in infinite combinations. Outstanding features of this self-proclaimed “diamond in the rough” include the Lily Pond, the Quarry Pond, the Granite Quarry, the Amphitheater and more. With the construction of the new Cony High School next to the Vo-Tech Center, the Nature Center’s trails have been improved, many of them widened and re-graded, with the addition of kiosks at all of the entrances, signs at every trail juncture and two new bridges (North Bridge and South Bridge) over Whitney Brook.
The Augusta Nature Education Center is open during daylight hours 365 days a year, for non-motorized use only, including hiking, biking, nature study and cross-country skiing.
The Augusta Nature Education Center is located on the east side of Augusta, situated between Cony Street Extension and Route 105. Eleven entrances offer access points to the Center’s trails. To access entrances 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 and 10, take Cony Street from the Cony rotary, continue straight on Cony when Rt. 105 veers to the left. To reach Entrances 5, 9, 10 and 11, turn left on Malta St. into the Hodgkins Middle School grounds, and park in front of the school. Entrance 5 is near the back of the loop road to the right of the school; Entrances 9, 10 and 11 are situated around the perimeter of the sports field to the left of the school. To reach Entrance 4, turn left onto Haskell St. and take it to the end, park on the street. Entrance 3 is located on the left side of Cony Road Extension just as it crosses Whitney Brook; there is space for about one car to park at this entrance. To reach Entrances 1 and 2, turn left onto Pierce St., which leads you into the grounds of Cony High School and the Vocational Technical Center, park in the lot to the south of the Vo-Tech Center. Entrance 1 is located to the left of the Vo-Tech Center and Entrance 2 is located to the right of Cony, across the new sports field. Entrances 6, 7 and 8 are located along Route 105 (South Belfast Ave.); these entrances have no parking options.
Total Trail Distance: 5 miles
The Augusta Nature Education Center’s thirteen trails link together into a variety of loops that offer hikers options from short strolls to long treks. The trails have an excessively complicated system of blazes and trail names, with often a single pathway changing names as it meanders through the Center. Fortunately, the trails are well-marked with new signs at all intersections and maps posted at intervals. Contact the Augusta Nature Club to get a copy of the latest map to help plan your trip and find your way around in the Center. Most of the trails wind through the dense mixed-hardwood forests of the Nature Center, although a few, most notably the Jordan Farm Trail and Whitney Brook Trail travel through more open areas.
Jordan Farm Trail
Entrances 2, 6 and 7
The Jordan Farm Trail is a wide gravel road that bisects an open field studded with apple trees and small pines to the Quarry Pond, a lovely pool of dark water, shaded on the near bank by overhanging trees and reaching to a sheer wall of granite on the opposite side. From the pond, the Jordan Farm Trail follows the eastern border of the Center.
Jordan Farm Alternate Trail
Entrances 2, 6 and 7
The Jordan Farm Alternate Trail is a narrow dirt track that travels through the woods, skirting the open field. The Alternate Trail meets the Jordan Farm Trail near the Quarry Pond, and then dips back into the woods, rejoining the main trail at the top of the hill.
Hillside Loop Trail
Blazes: White and Red
The Hillside Loop trail is a narrow dirt track whose two branches link the Jordan Pond Trail and Whitney Brook Trail up and down the pine and hemlock wooded hillside.
Entrance 1, 2 and 3
The Crabapple Trail offers a short loop up through the wooded hillside, connecting at various points to the Hillside Loop, the Whitney Brook Trail and the Witch Hazel Trail.
Entrance 1 and 3
Bruce’s Woods Trails loop through the woods, up and down the hill, just south of the Vo-Tech Center, passing through the Cony Rope Climbing Center, and skirting the back side of Lily Pond. The path of the trails through this area can be somewhat confusing, with a number of crisscrosses.
Whitney Brook Trail
Entrance 7 and 3
The Whitney Brook trail follows the path of Whitney Brook, a small sluggish stream that spans the Nature Center from south to north. This medium-wide grassy road follows the mostly open east bank of the brook and passes some of the Center’s highlighted natural features, including the Lily Pond (a small pond full of frogs and resplendent in summer with pink-flowered water lilies), the Dam, the Waterfall (a stone sluice, nearly dry in later summer) and the Beaver Works (an opportunity to view up-close beaver-gnawed stumps). From the Whitney Brook Trail, hikers can cross the stream to other trails at one of three bridges.
North Brookside Trail
Entrance 7 and 10
The North Brookside Trail is a narrow dirt track that connects to the Lower Hemlock Trail at both ends, and travels through the woods above the Granite Quarry and Whitney Brook.
South Brookside Trail
The South Brookside Trail starts near the South Bridge and skirts the wooded west bank of Whitney Brook. This narrow dirt track passes the Dam and Waterfall on Whitney Brook and the Amphitheater, an arc of exposed granite with a two-tiered wooden structure for seating or a stage. The South Brookside Trail also passes by Deadman’s Cave and ends in the Granite Quarry.
Lower Hemlock Trail
Entrance 7, and 10
The Lower Hemlock Trail follows a dirt pathway through dense, quiet pine and hemlock forests. At its southern terminus, the Lower Hemlock Trail links up with the Quarry Road Trail and Upper Hemlock trail; at its northern terminus, it connects to the Jordan Farm Trail across the North Bridge, and the other end of the Upper Hemlock Trail. The North Brookside Trail loops off of the Lower Hemlock Trail.
Upper Hemlock Trail
Entrance 7, 8, 9 and 10
The north branch of the Upper Hemlock Trail travels a wide gravel road from the White Oak Trail, down hill through pine forests, past a small birch grove to where it links with the north end of the Lower Hemlock Trail and North Brookside Trail. The south branch of the Upper Hemlock Trail climbs a wide dirt track from the junction of the Lower Hemlock Trail and Quarry Road Trail, through Ovenbird Corner, where several trails meet in a quiet hemlock grove, back up to the White Oak Trail.
White Oak Trail
Entrance 8 and 9
The White Oak Trail loops between the Upper and Lower Hemlock Trails and around Amphibian Pond. From Entrance #9 to the junction with the Lower Hemlock Trail, the White Oak Trail is a wide gravel road, from Entrance #8 around Amphibian Pond, it is a narrow dirt track. Amphibian Pond is a small wetland area, that has recently completely grown in with cattails. It creates a break in a small pine grove. The trail follows a ledgey ridge between the pond and Route 105. The northern connection between this backwoodsy section of the trail and road-like part appears to be under construction at this time, entailing a small climb up the bank to the main trail near of shiny new culvert. Look for white oak trees (distinguishable by their rounded edges) growing amongst the red oaks and pines.
Quarry Road Trail
Entrance 4 and 7
The Quarry Road Trail varies between is a narrow road that connects the Lower Hemlock Trail to the Witch Hazel Trail. The Quarry Road Trail travels the high ground above (and to the west of) Whitney Brook and offers connections to the South Brookside Trail.
Witch Hazel Trail
Entrance 1, 3, 4 and 5
The Witch Hazel Trail is a broad gravel road that travels down the hill from the Hawthorne Trail to Whitney Brook and back up again to the Vocational Center and Bruce’s Woods Trails. True to its name, the woods along the Witch Hazel trail are dotted with witch hazel bushes. Look for these small trees with scalloped leaves and tiny yellow flowers that bloom in the autumn.
Entrance 4, 5, 10 and 11
The Hawthorne trail is a wide dirt track that loops from the Malta Ledges near the water towers, past Blueberry Bend, a small open meadow covered in low-bush blueberry bushes to Ovenbird Corner.
The Augusta Nature Education Center is a fabulous place for kids to explore. The many looping trails offer a variety options for short or long hikes, depending on hiker ability, and the center abounds with interesting destinations, such as the three ponds, the quarry and Whitney Brook. Some of the trails lend themselves to jogging strollers—Jordan Farm Trail, Upper Hemlock Trail, part of White Oak Trail, Hawthorne Trail, Witch Hazel Trail, and Whitney Brook Trail—while the others are too narrow, steep or rocky for a safe, comfortable stroll, but are great for more mobile children. A summer day camp (Augusta Nature Camp) run at the Nature Center every year gives testament to the many attractions the Center offers kids.
To support trail upgrades and maintenance with a donation or to become a volunteer, contact the Augusta Nature Education Center.