The first time I drove into the US Vetrans Administration Togus property, I was pleasantly surprised to find not sterile, institutional wasteland, but a magical landscape of graceful trees, stately red brick buildings and pockets of enchanted woods and wild wetlands.
Originally founded as a summer resort, Togus (derived from “Worromontogus” or mineral water) became the first National Asylum (later Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1866. Today the Togus complex consists of a Medical Center, a VA Regional Hospital and a National Cemetary, surrounded by undeveloped woods, fields and two small ponds. Several trails traverse these wild edges, giving visitors much to explore.
From Stone/Hospital Street in Augusta, take Route 17 east 4 ½ miles to the second light. To access most of the trails, turn right here at the Togus maine entrance. Trail heads are located throughout the campus; exact starting points are noted in trail descriptions.
The Togus property is crisscrossed with many, interconnected trails that are each individually short enough for a quick lunchtime walk, yet a traveler with more time and energy can combine several trail segments into a respectable hike. The Togus property is generally flat and, with the exception of the Chestnut Ridge and Shady Lane Trails, very little climbing is required.
Beaver Dam Trail
Distance: 0.3 miles (one-way)
The beaver dam trail, true to its name follows a series of small beaver ponds along Greeley Brook, crossing a wild landscape of ferns under a canopy of red maple trees interspersed with white pine, paper birch and red oak. Keep your ears open for a beaver slipping into the water or slapping its tail in warning.
From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and follow the main road 0.3 miles, to where it forks. The Beaver Dam Trail begins to the right, on the north end of the small pond next to the hospital visitor and patient parking lot. The narrow dirt trail crosses a grassy area, past a bench under a pine tree overlooking the pond and follows the inlet upstream through a shady hardwood forest, past a beaver dam (thus the name) and small beaver pond. Two more benches give visitors spots to rest and reflect. Just beyond the last bench, the trail becomes somewhat overgrown with deep grass and is crossed by the beavers’ logging trail--to the right you can see several downed logs and gnawed stumps. Farther upstream, as the you near Route 17, the trail makes a right turn and comes out onto the main entrance road just 0.1 miles in from the light. From here you can go back the way you came, or return via the sidewalk along the road.
Greeley Brook Trail
Distance: 0.4 miles
From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and follow the main road 0.3 miles, to where it forks. The Greeley Brook Trail begins on the left side of the, just before the bridge over Greely Brook. This a wide, grassy, overgrown old road heads east from the main road, crossing a grassy patch before entering a sparsely wooded area of young poplar, cherry, oak and spruce. The trail arcs around to the right, opening up into a wide, grassy marsh where and comes to an unmarked intersection with Nature Trail #1. Continue straight ahead a short distance to where the Greeley Brook Trail ends at the intersection with the Foggy Bottom Trail.
Distance: 0.3 miles
From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and follow the main road 0.4 miles, to the hospital visitor and patient parking lot. From the northwest corner of the lot, at dirt road follows along the left bank of the small pond. Follow this road a couple of dozen yards; straight ahead the Chestnut Ridge trail continues along the road and a right turn begins the Powerline Trail. After passing the pond, this grassy two-track trail passes follows the powerline right-of-way 0.3 miles to the junction with the Ice Pond Trail near an old dilapidated bench.
Ice Pond Trail
Distance: 0.2 miles
Take your sense of adventure on the Ice Pond Trail which begins at the terminus of the Powerline Trail and is extremely overgrown with vegetation and small trees. The trail becomes so overgrown that it fades away completely as it nears the pond.
Pine Grove Trail
Distance: 0.4 miles (one-way)
On Route 17, continue past the main entrance to Togus about one mile and turn right onto Route 226. Take your first right onto the Hallowell Road. In about 0.1 miles, you will pass a large blue sign on the right. Park along the road just past the sign; the Pine Grove Trail begins just inside the woods north of the sign.
The Pine Grove Trail is a wide, level, fairly straight grass path that travels under a peaceful canopy of pine and mixed hardwoods (oak, maple, beech). The trail passes a wetland on the right with a view of the East Cemetery. The trail enters its namesake, a grove of tall white pines, then the mixed forest resumes and the trail comes to a crossroads. A left turn leads to the Foggy Bottom and Greeley Brook Trails; a right turn leads to a road gate; straight ahead is also marked “Pine Grove Trail” but beyond this intersection the trail becomes more overgrown and eventually dead-ends behind a white house at the edge of the Togus property on Route 17.
Nature Trail #1
Distance: Approximately 0.1 miles (one-way)
From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and, following the main road take the right fork, continue past the hospital and turn left into the overflow patient parking lot (about 0.8 miles from the light). At the northeast corner of the parking lot, a cryptic “Togus Nature Trails” sign marks the start of Nature Trail #1. The trail heads east from the lot and crosses Greeley Brook, here a wide, tranquil stream. Beyond the brook, it goes through an open meadow of tall grasses dotted with blue spruce trees which somehow give this open area a high mountain feel, despite the complete lack of vertical ascent. The trail crosses the Greeley Brook Trail at an unmarked intersection, enters the woods and ends where the Foggy Bottom Trail enters on the right (also unmarked); straight ahead leads to the Pine Grove Trail in a short distance.
Foggy Bottom Trail (Nature Trail #2)
Distance: 0.2 miles (one-way)
From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and, following the main road take the right fork, continue past the hospital and other buildings, turn left into the road to the West Cemetery, about 1 mile in from the light. Take this road about 0.2 miles. The Foggy Bottom Trail begins on the left, just before the cemetery gates. The Foggy Bottom Trail is a wide, grassy two-track road that heads straight through a somewhat open pine and mixed-hardwood forest. After a couple hundred yards the trail forks; the Greeley Brook Trail heading to the left and the Foggy Bottom Trail heading right. Soon after the first fork, the trail forks again at an unmarked intersection. Here a right turn will take you to the Pine Grove Trail, a left turn leads to Nature Trail #1 and straight ahead a metal gate crosses the road.
Chestnut Ridge Trail
Distance: 0.7 miles
The Chestnut Ridge Trail follows a broad gravel road under a canopy of mixed hardwood and provides one of the only opportunities for hill-climbing in the Togus trail system. From Route 17, turn right into Togus at the main entrance and follow the main road 0.4 miles, to the hospital visitor and patient parking lot. From the northwest corner of the lot, at dirt road follows along the left bank of the small pond. Follow this road a couple of dozen yards; straight ahead the Chestnut Ridge trail continues along the road, heading south and climbing uphill. Near the top of the hill, a short side trail to the right leads to the water tower; straight ahead heads downhill toward the west cemetery. The trail enters the the north end of the cemetery where magnificent hardwood trees shade the Civil-War-era marble headstones that follow the contours of the land like rows of crooked teeth. Continue southeast along the gravel road, forking left onto the paved cemetery road. Just shy of a brown metal shed, the Shady Lane Trail heads downhill. Follow this trail to a lower section of the cemetery to where the trail forks. The left fork resumes the Chestnut Ridge Trail, heads downhill through the woods and along the edge of a field behind the tall smokestack. The Chestnut Ridge Trail ends where it meets the Shady Lane Trail.
Shady Lane Trail
Distance: 0.2 miles
On Route 17, continue past the main entrance to Togus about one mile and turn right onto Route 226. Take your first right onto the Hallowell Road. Continue on the Hallowell Road about one mile to the East Cemetery. Turn in at the first entrance and follow the narrow lane to a small brown shed. The Shady Lane Trail begins just on the other side of the shed (parking is available at a number of pull-outs along the cemetery road). The Shady Lane Trail lives up to its name; this narrow passage rambles downhill under low-hanging beech and maple branches to a lower section of the cemetery. Here the trail forks, with the left fork leading to the final stretch of the Chestnut Ridge Trail and the right continuing the Shady Lane Trail downhill through the woods, ending in a field behind the tall smokestack. Chestnut Ridge Trail also ends here and you can make a loop of it.
All of the Togus trails, with the exception of the overgrown Ice Pond Trail, are suitable for children of all ages. Most of the trails are wide and flat, following old roadways and therefore accessible to strollers and little legs. They are also relatively short and without much in the way of ups and downs, making them do-able to even the littlest walkers; review the trail descriptions, length and difficulty labels to help you determine which trails would be most interesting and suitable for your little ones.