The Great Outdoors: Exploring the Sam Ristich Trail System in North Yarmouth

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From the North Yarmouth Town Office near the junction of Route 9 and Route 115 in North Yarmouth, four trails connect to provide a peaceful four-mile round-trip walk through a beautiful forest landscape.

Plan for a three-hour walk if you bring your binoculars and are intent on enjoying a wide variety of bird sightings as we did on our 6 a.m. start from the Town Office parking lot.

As we walked down the Old Railroad Bed Trail toward the turnaround point out near Route 231, we heard the piercing call of a hawk up ahead. The call got closer and closer. We suddenly looked up into a trail-side oak and saw a majestic hawk sitting on a dead branch peering down at us. It kept calling as we zeroed in on it with our binoculars.

Suddenly a flock of blue jays descended into the branches around the hawk and started an absolute racket, all the while flitting about the hawk. Bothered by all the commotion the hawk swooped off into a nearby tree, and the jays seemed happy for a few minutes. Then we heard another hawk calling from a tree 20 yards off the trail. The jays began hounding our original hawk again and it flew to yet another perch. There might have even been a third hawk. With all the hawk calls, the screaming of jays, and wings beating through the trees it was hard to keep track of the players.

We have always been used to seeing hawks at the edge of open fields or soaring over meadows looking for prey. But what a surprise to see them in a deep, dark forest. We imagined how excited Sam Ristich would have been at our discovery.

The “Mushroom Man” to many, mycologist Ristich inspired children and adults alike to discover the fascinating treasures of forest and fen over his many years of living in the Yarmouth area. Check out the Ristich website ( for more information about this remarkable man.

The Old Railroad Bed was originally part of the Maine Central Railroad system, but in 1911 it was abandoned for today’s current route near the Royal River. A slight rise coming out of Walnut Hill village required the consumption of more coal and of course more money as the price of coal increased. The flatter route allowed more profitability.

Note the granite culverts placed along the railroad bed to direct the flow of water. This area also had a thriving granite industry for many years. You will see evidence of two small quarries on the Sam Ristich Loop Trail just south of the Old Railroad Bed Trail. The gray granite from the Yarmouth and Pownal areas was used to help build the New York State Capitol in Albany and the Pillsbury mills in Minneapolis, as well as the Cribstone Bridge to Bailey Island.

From the railroad bed you will pass by a beaver flowage filled with the sounds of bullfrogs, and a few hundred yards later reach the end of the mowed rail corridor, the turnaround point. We spent 40 minutes here munching on succulent sweet raspberries, and scanning the marshy area to the west for birds. Goldfinches were everywhere, perched on the tops of dead trees, boldly outlined against the milky early morning sky. Unlike most birds goldfinches start their families in August and September because they are seed-eaters and must wait for the seeds to finally appear in late summer to feed to their young. Tree swallows darted here and there in search of insects. Cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, and a number of sparrows were also seen.

We headed back through the two white-blazed Ristich Trails, eventually walking out the Parsonage Road to sit awhile in the Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Route 9. A granite bench provided by the Cole Land Transportation Museum was inscribed with “All Gave Some – Some Gave All.” A beautiful morning walk, warmth and sun, a breeze rustling through the trees – we felt extremely lucky.

Many large white pine tower above the open forest floor throughout the trail system. Beech trees with their smooth gray bark are in great abundance as well. Oak, birch, and hemlock round out the dominant species along the trails. Benches are placed at peaceful spots along the way for rest and reflection. To the west of the Sam Ristich Nature Trail you will note a gigantic sand pit through the trees, evidence that there was a lot of water flowing through and over this area from the melting ice 12,000 years ago.

The North Yarmouth Historical Society was of great help in preparing this article. Be sure to check out their website for history and pictures of the North Yarmouth area that will help you better appreciate all the wonderful things you will encounter on your walk. A detailed trail map and interpretive brochure can be downloaded from the town of North Yarmouth website. Click on “Park Facilities” and go to the bottom of the page. Once you walk this system of trails you will be back this fall to enjoy the foliage colors and again this winter with your snowshoes. Peace and quiet, and great beauty reside here – all seasons.

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Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. Contact him at