Thursday, October 1, 2009

Smithfield Plantation

Litchfield

The Smithfield Plantation is a peaceful preserve of 103 acres, owned by the town of Litchfield and maintained by the Smithfield Plantation Trust. Two loop trails wind their way through the lovely mixed hardwood forest, dominated by American beech and accented with numerous stunningly large multi-topped white pines. Most of the trail is far enough from the road noise of Route 126 to provide hikers a chance to quietly commune with the birds and trees.

Getting There
From downtown Gardiner, take Route 126 east west {correction 6/28/10} about 9.3 miles. Turn left at the blinking light by the Country Store, onto the Hallowell Road. Follow the Hallowell Road about 1.5 miles; turn right onto the Libby Road and follow it approximately one mile. A small parking area on left with a large white and green sign and a kiosk marks the Smithfield Plantation trailhead.

The Trails
Both trails begin to the left of the sign. The trails are well-marked with yellow blazes and appear incredibly well-maintained, with sturdy bridges over all of the streams and wet areas, a couple of benches for resting, and even a picnic area with tables and an outhouse partway around the main trail.

The Main Loop
Distance: approximately 2-3 miles (loop)

(Note: Although this trail is labeled as being one mile long, I believe it is at least twice that).
Difficulty: moderate
Time needed: 1+ hours

From the parking lot, head into the woods under a pleasing canopy of birch and beech trees. A short distance in, a small interpretive sign gives a short history of Litchfield. As the trail approaches a pipeline corridor, the Vernal Pool trail forks off to the left. Continue straight across the corridor and into the woods. The trail comes to a small picnic area, with an outhouse, two picnic tables and a small amphitheater, with rows of benches climbing the hill above a podium. From here the trail heads down to a wet area crossed by a series of bog bridges. After two more water crossings on sturdy wooden bridges, near which two amazingly large pines grow, the trail climbs uphill again, angling to the left. Near the top of the rise, a bench provides a resting spot, and another interpretive sign shows images of some of the wildlife to be found in the forest.
The trail heads downhill to another bridge crossing a small stream. Just before the bridge a spur trail heads off to the right to overlook the bog. This spur travels a couple hundred yards to an arm of land extending to the edge of a large wetland filled with cattails. A bench here allows for quiet contemplation of view (during the non-buggy seasons!). Back on the main trail, the trail crosses the stream and travels between two small hills and crosses another bridge. The other end of the Vernal Pool Trail joins the main trail from the left. The trail crosses one more small bridge, and heads to the parking area.

The Vernal Pool Trail
Distance: approximately ½ mile
Difficulty: moderate
Time needed: ½ hour

To take the Vernal Pool Trail, begin on the main trail, to the left of the sing. Just before the main trail crosses a pipeline corridor, the Vernal Pool Trail begins on the left. The trail follows a large old stone wall for a couple hundred yards. The angles uphill to the right, while the trail continues downhill and to the left, with its namesake vernal pool straight ahead and a blue bench overlooking the seasonal pool. The trail re-joins the main loop after a short distance.

Kid-Friendly Factor
The narrow, bumpy trail is unsuitable for strollers, but the trail is a good distance for little hikers, although when I took my four-year-olds on both the main loop and the Vernal Pond loop, they began to protest. Try the shorter Vernal Pond Trail with younger hikers, and the longer main loop for more experienced kids. The great big pine trees invited my kids to try climbing every one, and one magnificent beech with a flying buttress coming off one side and a big hollow hole in it was pure magic.

Getting Involved
Contact the Town of Litchfield for volunteer information.

4 comments:

Badgerjim said...

I think you mean take Route 126 WEST from Gardiner. Taking it east would put you on the wrong side of the Kennebec for this place.

Andrea said...

You're right, Badgerjim. Thanks for catching that!

Badgerjim said...

No problem!
My wife Nancy and I gave this place a try last month and were glad we did--we wouldn't have head of it without your post! The article describes the place well. We have only two things to add:
1. There's a useful website about Smithfield Plantation at http://originalcomputing.com/litchfield/otherSites/smithfield/
2. One other bonus to hiking there when we did in late June: strawberries! In the first clearing over the oil pipeline one finds on the hike, there were numerous wild strawberries ripe then--they were delicious and added another dimension to the hike.

Benjamin Daggett said...

Hi Andrea, I have been hiking/running the Smithfield for most of my life. I recently measured the distance of the main loop with a Garmin tracking watch - the official distance of the main loop is 1.1 miles one way.

Thanks for managing this website, it is a great resource for everyone!

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