With a variety of never-ending yard chores and home repair projects on tap, it is hard to make a guilt-free getaway up into the western Maine mountains for a day of wilderness solitude. Wilderness is nearby, however, in most southern Maine towns on a network of under-utilized trails that most people know nothing about.
Celebrate National Trails Day on Saturday, June 6, by participating in a sponsored walk offered by your town recreation department or local land trust. National Trails Day began in 1993, a promotional effort of the American Hiking Society, to help people discover existing local trails and create a groundswell of enthusiasm to create new trails for future generations. Their Web site lists all registered National Trails Day events state by state.
Freeport’s newest addition to its already impressive list of green spaces, parks and trails officially opens on June 6 with guided tours of its newly cut and marked trail winding along secluded Kelsey Brook. From 10 a.m. to noon that day, guided tours will be available every half hour departing from the trailhead parking area on the left approximately a tenth of a mile up the Litchfield Road from Flying Point Road. From L.L. Bean in downtown Freeport follow Bow Street (which becomes Flying Point Road) for 2.5 miles. Just past the open pastures of Mitchell Ledge Farm turn left onto the Litchfield road, a few hundred yards before the Wolfe’s Neck Road.
The Kelsey Brook Trail leads north for a mile to a wooden bridge leading over Kelsey Brook. We tarried here a half hour sitting on the bridge, feet dangling over the side with the water gurgling under the bridge and winding three miles south to its meeting with the Harraseeket River estuary. A few marsh marigolds were left, their yellow flowers and shiny green leaves brilliant in the late spring sun. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch. We snoozed in the sun, listened to a stiff and cooling sea breeze mingle with the treetops, and thought of endless reasons why today’s chores could easily be tackled tomorrow.
A quarter-mile beyond the bridge, the white blazed trail veers off to the left and meets with the Brimstone Hill Trail which originates 1.5 miles away on the Pleasant Hill Road. The blue-ribboned trail continuing straight ahead becomes the Antoinette Jackman Trail that leads out to the northern portion of the Litchfield Road. All three trails are part of a long-term project known as the East Freeport Trail system.
The trail follows the slopes and vales east of Kelsey Brook through a beautiful evergreen forest dotted with occasional white birch, beech and red oak. There are some very large white pines and hemlocks throughout the forest. Look for beaver activity down along the brook. We saw quite a few gnarled alder stumps and remnants of beaver lodges destroyed by spring flooding. Countless small deer prints punctuated the muddy streamside slopes.
Initially the trail follows along the green pastures of Mitchell Ledge Farm. The brilliant green fields were dotted with thousands of yellow dandelions. A few feet away, on the other side of the electric fence line, the white blossoms of wild strawberries vied for our attention along with the dainty flowers of the common blue violet. If you are fortunate you might spy the striking Belted Galloway beef cattle grazing in the field. This rare breed numbers only 10,000 worldwide and is sometimes referred to as the “Oreo Cow” for obvious reasons.
In the forest, delicate white Eastern starflowers were just starting to appear, a classic spring wildflower of moist New England forests. We even spied a few purple trillium that by autumn will sport an impressive solitary red bead in place of spring’s large drooping purple flower.
As you explore the trail you can’t help but be impressed with the work that has been completed on the trail by the Maine Conservation Corps and eager volunteers. Many grants were secured by the Freeport Conservation Trust to help build an impressive series of wide and sturdy bog bridges and traditional bridges to help control erosion and also provide minimum impact access through wet areas. A much-appreciated byproduct of these bridges: dry feet.
While we did not see a lot of birds, we certainly heard many: nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays and the occasional rooster call from nearby Mitchell Ledge Farm. Early in the morning and late afternoon look for white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and killdeer in Mitchell Ledge Field. Find a spot in the forest with clear views down into the wider portions of Kelsey Brook and get out your binoculars. You may spy solitary sandpipers flitting about, and an occasional blue heron.
A quarter mile into your exploration of the Kelsey Brook Trail sit down and take notice of the sounds of a wild forest. And if you have ever hiked, or desired to hike, the Appalachian Trail’s Hundred Mile Wilderness from Monson to Katahdin, you are in for quite a treat on the Kelsey Brook Trail. Only three miles from L.L. Bean in bustling Freeport you are somehow magically on a beautiful stretch of forest solitude between Potywadjo Spring Lean-to and historic Mahar Landing, deep within the Hundred Mile Wilderness 20 miles west of Millinocket. The Kelsey Brook Trail is indeed a wilderness escape in our own backyard. Happy National Trails Day.
This new trail is one of many conservation projects undertaken by the Freeport Conservation Trust since its creation in 1977. Note that the Kelsey Brook Trail is on privately owned land, and because much of the property is part of a working farm, hikers must stay on the blazed trail and all pets must be leashed.