The Cobbossee Stream Conservation area in Gardiner provides hikers an excellent opportunity to view the Cobbossee’s surging whitewater and the reamains of the industry it once fed. The short but powerful Cobbossee stream—it is only about 1.3 miles long and drops 127 feet in elevation—was the epicenter of development in the Gardiner area. Soon after the first settlers landed here, they erected lumber and grist mills, harnessing the stream’s energy. As many as 10 dams restrained the Cobbossee’s waters between New Mills to the Kennebec in the 19th century. Three of these dams remain today and can be viewed from the trail.
The City of Gardiner has envisioned in its Cobbossee Corridor Master Plan, a bicycle/pedestrian trail extending about 3000 feet upstream from where the stream meets the Kennebec. The plan also lays out intentions to improve sidewalks, rehabilitate the train trestle, create an outdoor “museum-on-the-stream,” increase stream access, and connect the Cobbossee Corridor to the Kennebec River Rail Trail, Gardiner Waterfront Park and nearby schools. The 15-acre Conservation Area was donated to the City of Gardiner with an easement to the Kennebec Land Trust to preserve it as open space and develop trails.
From downtown Gardiner, take Route 126 west toward the Turnpike. About one mile from downtown, you will cross the New Mills Bridge. Take an immediate right onto Harrison Avenue. In about half a mile you will see the access point on your right--a concrete barrier across an old road (there is no sign). There is just enough room for one car to park in front of the barrier.
Distance: Approximately 1/2-mile (one-way)
Time: 15-30 minutes
Follow the old road a short distance toward the stream to where the road T’s. A right turn will take you along a grassy woods trail upstream through a shady hemlock grove and under a canopy of oak and beech to the overlook the dam below New Mills. A left at the T takes you downstream, past the ruins of an old stone dam and the crumbling walls of some long-gone industrial structure. The trail ends just above dam #5, across the stream from the former Gardiner Papeboard mill. This dam is slated for removal in the near future to restore the flow of the stream and open it up to fish passage. The rushing waters drown out any road noise that may emanate from Route 126 or Harrison Avenue, leaving visitors with a sense of wildness on the banks of this tamed but still rushing stream.
The walk is short and easy, and could be easily handled by a young child but I’m too much of a Nervous Nellie to take my kids here--I would have an anxiety attack waiting for them to fall over the falls at one of the dams, especially during spring runoff. Plus the old, rusty remnants of industry would be too much for them to avoid. Calmer persons, with older or more tame children might enjoy taking them to the Conservation Area to view the historic remains, the dams and the wild, whitewater of the Cobbosee.