A great article from Fresh from the Woods, on how back country trails knit together the landscape of the Western Maine Mountains.
Trails for the 21st century
By JOE RANKIN
It’s a beautiful day. Leaves are turning. The air smells of the dying days of summer. A swollen stream roars off to the right.
The group is moving slowly, pulling brush off a newly cleared footpath. Snipping pesky branches, cutting saplings. Later in the day the volunteers will build bog bridges and install water bars.
This is a workday on the Fly Rod Crosby Trail, a new trail in the high peaks region of western Maine that will one day stretch 35 miles and invite hikers, mountain bikers and ATVers into the forest to learn about the region and the legendary outdoorswoman for whom the trail is named.
Putting in a water bar on the Fly Rod Crosby Trail. (Jo Josephson photo)
And the Fly Rod Crosby Trail is only one of several new long distance trails that are stitching together the woods and communities of Maine, and, some say, laying the foundation of a new tourism economy.
In the beginning there was the Appalachian Trail. It runs from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Katahdin. Of its 2,174 miles, 281 are in Maine. For the motorized crowd there’s Maine’s 14,000-mile system of snowmobile trails, including those interstates for snow sleds, the Interconnected Trail System or ITS. And there is a growing number of ATV trails.
“The ‘new generation’ trails offer a broader array of opportunities for more people to experience the Maine woods. Not everyone is up for a multi-day backpacking trip on the AT,” says Karin Tilberg, who served as a senior advisor on natural resources to Gov. John Baldacci and co-chair of the Nature-based Tourism Task Force..
“Even one outdoor adventure into Maine’s natural forested landscape can open the door to appreciation and awareness of the Maine woods. That appreciation can lead to pride, curiosity, and a desire to learn more. These trails help entice people to experience all that Maine’s woods have to offer and to develop a relationship with its history, landowners and future well-being.”
Cross country skiers on a Maine Huts and Trails trail. (Photo courtesy of Maine Huts and Trails.)
“I think any time you get people to actually walk or ski or be in the environment it awakens a whole new sense for them of the importance of it. I see it all the time in teachers,” agrees Sherry Huber, the executive director of the Maine TREE Foundation.
Adding signs and exhibits to interpret the biology, geology and history of an area, as many of the new trail projects plan to do, “adds to the experience a person will have, makes it richer, gives them a better understanding of where they’ve been. The more you know about an area the more interesting it is,” Huber added.
The Fly Road Crosby Trail will celebrate the life of Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, who lived from 1854 to 1946.
She was Maine’s first registered guide, lobbied for creel and bag limits, and promoted Maine as a tourist destination, said Ben Godsoe, 28, who grew up in Madrid Township in Franklin County and came on as the project‘s director last year.
Crosby grew up in Phillips, guided in Rangeley and is buried in Strong, so the route is roughly linked to the landscape of her life.
The trail begins in Strong and will stretch northwestward 35 miles, more or less, crossing the AT along the way. It will end, appropriately enough, at the new Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossoc. It will link a variety of existing trails and create some new ones. The trail is a project of the High Peaks Alliance. Eight different groups, representing snowshoers, ATVers, hikers, canoeists, and snowmobilers, are involved.
The major challenge has been getting the motorized and non-motorized groups to work together. For Godsoe, that’s meant attending a lot of meetings and doing a lot of listening.
Jo Josephson of Temple is one of the dozen or so people out working on the trail this fall day. She’s buoyantly optimistic about the project, saying it will not only connect people to the forest, but help bridge cultural divides by getting people to work together who might not have otherwise.
“It‘s also a trail for local people who can rediscover their heritage,” Josephson said. “There’s going to be a lot signs, history, geology. Everyone’s going to use this trail for their needs. And they’re going to get a sense of place.”
The trail will be “multi-modal in places, but divided between footpaths and motorized sections in others. This section the group is working on today is a hiking path that parallels a heavily used ATV trail on the other side of the Sandy River.
Jim Logan of Freeman Township, who is also lopping branches and pulling brush today, is an avid hiker and “a person who, more and more, likes seeing people get outside, regardless of how they do it. This would be a good way of seeing if you could get more cooperation going. And you know, frankly, if we don’t cooperate, the landowners won’t.”
Godsoe said the Fly Rod Crosby Trail will be “unique in this part of the state. Maybe the whole state. It directly connects heritage resources like museums and historical societies, it features co-management by multiple recreational trail groups and it has something for everyone.”
“Fly Rod Crosby was the first person to really market this part of Maine as a destination for tourists and early recreation. She did this by tying together resources in the area like the narrow gauge railroad, hotels and guide services. We’re just trying to follow in her footsteps 100 years later.”
While the Fly Rod trail is probably the only landscape scale trail system being designed around a single person theme, so to speak, it is not the only one to emphasize cultural aspects of the state’s landscape.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is meant to retrace traditional canoe routes through the northern forest.
“One of the really powerful things about trails is the potent way they access the outdoors. For people that don’t have a woodlot in their back yard, a trail is their access point,” said Kate Williams, the executive director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
“What’s really cool about this new generation of trails, if that’s what they are . . . is they accept that power and do a lot more than say we can just guide people through a natural place. They offer them a story about the landscape . . . you become part of the history you learn about.”
The Appalachian Mountain Club is expanding trail and lodging opportunities on its 66,000 acres around the Katahdin Iron Works and Roach Ponds area.
The objectives,” said Heather Clish, the 100,000-member Club’s deputy director of conservation, “provide more recreation opportunities, guarantee public access to the woods, and protect large areas of forest, all while helping support the local economy through recreation-based tourism and timber production.”
“What we are doing is providing a more diverse array of activities,” she said. “People will have a choice of lodges and campsites. They may want to go hiking one day, paddling another, fishing another day.”
The AMC trails will also educate people about the diverse uses of the forest since the Club continues to sustainably harvest timber on parts of its lands.
“It’s also an opportunity to see that kind of work in action,” said Clish. “For safety reasons we’re not going to be sending people right into a timber harvest. But simply being exposed to a managed forest builds to their fundamental understanding of what the Maine woods is about.”
The Maine Huts and Trails System is perhaps the most ambitious of the new generation trail systems.
A happy hut crowd enjoying dinner. (Photo courtesy of Maine Huts and Trails.)
It was the brainchild of former Sugarloaf USA president Larry Warren. He dreamed of a hiking-cross country skiing trail running from Bethel to Greenville, with “eco-lodges,” or huts, along its length.
A decade or so later, MH&T has spent some $8 million on the project, most of it on land and lodging facilities. Thirty miles of trail have been cut and three huts built, at Poplar Stream Falls, Flagstaff Lake and Grand Falls on the Dead River, said Executive Director Dave Herring. Some 5,000 people have stayed overnight at them, with visitors coming from 25 states and three foreign countries.
“So far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We just did a survey recently of current users And 89 percent say they are ’very likely’ to return. People are really excited and more often than not surprised by what they find.”
It will take years to complete the project, as it will for the AMC to round out its trail system and lodging offerings on its land, and even to complete the much smaller Fly Rod Crosby Trail.
He sees the new trail systems are helping create the foundation for a new type of eco-tourism industry in Maine. They will build on Maine’s “outdoor heritage and outdoor recreation brand” and “further build out a more robust nature-based economy,” Herring said.
“But that new eco-tourism economy won’t materialize overnight,” he said. “Like the trails themselves, it‘s a work in progress.”
“There needs to be this big push of a number of different initiatives to create that critical mass,” Herring said. “The critical mass isn’t there yet. A lot of the projects are not yet complete. But the vision is there. That’s the biggest part. It’s just a matter of executing it.”