Wednesday, June 4, 2008

University of Maine at Augusta Outdoor Leisure Center Trails


Just a short drive from downtown Augusta, the University of Maine at Augusta Outdoor Leisure Center Trails offer hikers a variety of options: a short stroll through fields, a lovely hike under the canopy of a mature pine and hardwood forest, a somewhat confusing ramble through a network of trails looping through field and early successional forest of field pine and invasive honeysuckle. The trails are wide and comfortable for walking, the woods, where dense, are cool and peaceful, and the scraps of old fitness stations and bits of degrading artwork add interest. Instead of adding to the destruction of the world by shopping at nearby Consumer Hill, why not spend an afternoon getting in touch with nature on UMA’s Leisure Center Trails?

Getting There
From the west rotary in Augusta, go North on State Street, which turns into Civic Center Drive. In about 2 ½ miles, turn left onto Community Drive following it around to the left of the Civic Center for about .4 miles to the UMA Outdoor Fitness Center. Park near the sign by the tennis courts (a large blue moose track painted on a boulder marks the spot). Straight ahead, past the tennis courts and through a small patch of woods a large sign and map marks the beginning of the trails.

The Trails

The UMA Outdoor Leisure Center trail system is made up of five interconnected loop trails. Although most of the trail intersections are marked by arrows, the trail symbols have worn off most of them, making it difficult to know which trail you are on most of the time. Some additional side trails and connecters that don’t appear on the map add to the confusion. However, all trails eventually loop back to the beginning, so it would be impossible to get too lost. To complete all of the trails in one outing, expect to spend 1-2 hours on the trail.

Deerfield Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles (loop)
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

The Deerfield Trail makes a loop around the tennis courts and a large field partially overgrown with small white pine and honeysuckle. The pathway is a large, mowed swath around the perimeter of the field.

Porcupine Trail
Distance: 1 mile
Time: ½ hour
Difficulty: Moderate

The Porcupine Trail, a wide path of packed earth and pine needles climbs up and down gentle hills and gullies and meanders through the densest part of the forest. Tall, straight white pines stand in majesty along with paper birch and American beech over an understory of small woodland plants like wild sarsaparilla and Canada mayflower. The trail’s previous life as a fitness trail is apparent in a few remaining fitness stations (challenge yourself to try the monkey bars--I couldn’t even manage one rung!). At least one art installation along the path leads the hiker down a steep staircase of birch logs to a small, perfectly round (and empty) pool and a partially excavated (and fake) skeleton.

At the halfway point, the trail comes to a backwards fork, with a sharp right leading back downhill through the other half of the Porcupine Trail and back to Deerfield Trail just slightly downfield from where the trail started at the sign. Straight leads to another fork; the start of the Moose Trail.

Moose Trail
Distance: 0.7 miles
Time ½ hour
Difficulty: Moderate

The Moose Trail continues through the dense woods of the Porcupine Trail and into the more open sections of field pine, young aspen and honeysuckle that characterize the Bear and Chipmunk Trails. Taking the left fork at the end of Porcupine Trail, the trail leads uphill a short distance through the woods and out into the open where the trail meets a 5-way intersection. The right path leads down the other half of the Moose Trail and back to the Porcupine. The first left leads down to a parking lot behind Katz Library and Jewett Hall at UMA (go this way to check out another macabre art piece depicting a horned skeleton standing over a bloody dragon). Straight ahead and the second left are the Bear Trail, which connects with Chipmunk Trail.

Bear Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles
Time: 15-30 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate

From the 5-way intersection at the end of Moose Trail, go straight into an area of low pine trees, up a short hill that levels off in a wide sandy area and downhill again. At the bottom of the hill the trail forks. The right fork is the Chipmunk Trail. Take the left fork into an open area under the power lines, through a muddy, vehicle-rutted section of trail and loop back around to the 5-way intersection.

Chipmunk Trail
Distance: 0.4 miles
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate

From the fork with the Bear Trail at the bottom of the hill, go right, paralleling the power lines on your left for a short distance before arcing left, across power lines and paralleling them back in the opposite direction. The trail curves right, crosses a washed-out culvert, climbs a short, steep hill and comes out in an open area behind the UMA campus. The trail crosses over a wooden bridge and re-enters the woods. Another fork in the trail here leads to another short loop that reconnects with itself. The trail crosses a long, gradually-sloping uphill section of field behind UMA, re-enters the woods, crosses back under the power lines and meets back at the 5-way intersection.

Kid-Friendly Factor

The UMA Outdoor Leisure Center Trails are a great place to take kids for a hike. For the most part, the trails are wide and smooth and could easily accommodate a jogging stroller (avoid the muddy ruts of the Bear Trail and the blown-out culvert on Chipmunk). The woods along the Porcupine and Moose Trails and dense and mysterious--the perfect place for building fairy house (use only natural, non-living materials, please) and make-believe games of bear hunt or knights and dragons and fairy princesses--and the trails are short and reconnect often enough to allow you to turn back when little ones’ legs have had enough. Be cautious about the dilapidated fitness platforms on Porcupine and the sometimes steep drop-offs along the trail.
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