Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hallowell Recreation Area/City Forest


The Hallowell Recreation Area, known locally as “The Res” offers hikers an unexpected patch of wilderness just minutes from downtown Hallowell. The small but lovely reservoir has a decidedly “wild” feel, with a beach on one side and surrounded on the other sides by dense woods of tall pines, white birch and other mixed hardwoods, with wintergreen, Canada mayflower and other native plants growing in the understory. The surrounding woods, encompassing 188 acres, are dotted with springs and vernal pools and the remnants of Hallowell’s historic granite quarries. Hallowell Recreation Area is the largest city-owned property open to public use. The area also includes a neglected-looking ball field and basketball court, which once served the City’s recreation programs, and covered picnic areas near the beach.

Getting there
From Water Street in Hallowell, take Central Street west, up the hill 1.5 miles. Turn right on Town Farm Road, and go 0.5 miles to Reservoir Road, on the left next to a small, square pond. Alternately, you can take Winthrop street 1.4 miles from downtown Hallowell, turn left onto Town Farm Road and go 0.2 miles to Reservoir Road. Reservoir Road is gated off-season and a small parking area to the right of the road offers space for about 8-10 cars. During the summer, drive up Reservoir Road about ¼ mile to a gravel parking area next to the beach.

The Trails
Distance: Approximately 2 miles (loop)

Time: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

The trails are unmarked, but not difficult to follow. They are also unnamed, but I refer to them here as the “snowmobile loop” and “reservoir loop” for convenience. You can choose to take the shorter reservoir loop that skirts the water’s edge just inside the woods, or the longer snowmobile loop that climbs up higher through the woods. They both start and end at the same place. If you have a lot of time and are feeling adventuresome, you can explore the other snowmobile trails that fork off from the snowmobile loop at two points.

From the winter parking area, follow Reservoir Road approximately ¼ mile, passing another small pond on the right, to where the trail opens out to a gravel lot (summer parking area), with a somewhat dilapidated baseball field on the right, a crumbling basketball court and old, out-of-service bath house on the left, and a pond--The Res--straight ahead. Four covered picnic areas appear to be under construction in the grassy area between the gravel and the water.

The trail begins in the woods just to the right of the reservoir. It follows a wide, but somewhat bumpy snowmobile trail, with small side trails occasionally providing access to the water’s edge.

At the far corner of the pond the trail forks. The left fork (reservoir loop) is a narrow footpath that skirts the far shore of the reservoir, through the woods, with glimpses of The Res to your left. Under a large pine tree the reservoir loop trail forks. The left fork takes you downhill and across the outlet stream over a series of rocks, just below the granite dam, and comes out of the woods near the beach and picnic area. The right fork continues on a short distance, eventually dropping down a small bank to re-join the snowmobile loop. Turn left at the snowmobile loop to return to Reservoir Road.

The right fork (snowmobile loop) follows the snowmobile trail uphill, angling to the left. The trail passes a big slag pile on the right. Just beyond the pile, a short side trail on the right leads to a shady water-filled granite quarry. The trail continues uphill to a four-way intersection at the top of the hill. Turn left and begin to head downhill (the first 100 yards of this section of trail is wet but passable in spring). Continue downhill through a hemlock and mixed hardwood forest to where the trail meets another four-way intersection.

The left fork continues downhill, through another wet area, and crosses a small stream. A narrow footpath leads up into the woods on the left of the trail; this is the far end of the reservoir loop. Continue downhill to a small gulley where the outflow of a small beaver pond on the left flows over the trail. Cross the stream on small rocks and head back uphill a short distance, emerging from the woods along the edge of Reservoir Road, just shy of and across from the ball field (a large rock and a huge section of concrete pipe mark this end of the trail).

Kid-Friendly Factor
The Res is a great place for kids. The walk from the road to the water is wide, flat and easy for little walkers, beginning bikers or parents pushing strollers. The reservoir loop would make a challenging but fun hike for kids four to five years or older, and the wider but longer snowmobile loop offers a longer walk for older kids or even a challenging run for beginning mountain bikers. I pushed the double jogging stroller the whole length of the snowmobile loop, but the trail is fairly bumpy, with roots and rocks jutting up, and it took two of us to push the stroller up the steeper part of the hill, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want the extra exercise and don’t mind the wear and tear on your stroller. The ball fields and beach offer additional space for running around, and what kid isn’t entertained for hours by throwing rocks and sticks into water?
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