After our difficulties hiking in Tanglewood during the melting season, we decided to find some place that would get us outside and not be so taxing on us, physically. This would be tricky, for not only were we dealing with slushy snow but we were approaching mud season; a most unpleasant time for exploring hiking trails. In fact, the forecast for the next day was another 3 to 5 inches of snow, letting us know that even though the calendar said April, winter was not done yet. I finally suggested that perhaps the Rail trail in Belfast would be manageable as it meandered along the Passagassawaukeag River and was more exposed to sun.
Since I last visited the Belfast Rail Trail, the path has been connected to the downtown area of Belfast. With this in mind, we decided to park in town and walk along the paved path by the river towards the pedestrian bridge and the Rail Trail. We encountered many people enjoying their stroll within the confines of the town; a clear indication that “if you build it they will come”. It certainly served to get people outside even though the trail conditions in other venues were no longer ideal.
Once we passed the pedestrian bridge and continued underneath Route 1, we were pretty much on our own. The Rail Trail was created with fine gravel, so I thought this would be better than hiking through slush or mud but even here the snow was still firmly in place along the trail. Although the snow was a bit slushy, it was not as arduous as our hike through Tanglewood the week before, however, given the consistency of the snow, we decided that we would walk to the next parking area before turning back towards town.
It was pleasant walking along the river, so we stopped a few times to admire the view; a stream running down the hill towards the river, the remnants of an old bridge and the vegetation beginning to bud. Along the way, I discovered a leaf that had left its impression in the melting snow. It was amazing that the dark color of the leaf was enough to cause the snow under it to melt faster than the surrounding area.
We soon reached our turn around point, where we paused for a moment to look further down the trail before turning back towards town. Even trails like this will just be easier after the snow is gone for the year.
Another few inches of snow had fallen, but the weekend temperatures were getting close to 40 and the sun was shining, so what could be better than a walk through the woods! Exploring the Forest to River Trail at Tanglewood seemed to be an ideal place for a hike, but not knowing what the trail conditions would be, we threw our spikes and our snowshoes in the car and headed off towards our next adventure.
The day had warmed enough so that the dirt road leading towards Tanglewood had turned a bit slick, leading to a small driving challenge. However, we did make it to the parking area, where we had to make the next decision of snowshoes, spikes or just the boots on our feet. The snow seemed pretty packed down, so we opted to leave the accessories in the car. It wasn’t long before we realized that this was a big mistake. Although the snow was packed down where cross country skiers had gone before, the warming temperatures had changed the snow to such a soft, sticky mush that we found ourselves slogging our way towards the river.
My husband kept grumbling that we should have gone back for our snowshoes so that we could have easily followed outdoor etiquette of not treading in the ski tracks. I didn’t think that the snowshoes would have given us much of an advantage in the wet snow so I kept on going. We continued at a slow pace down through a grove of conifers before turning off towards the Turner Falls trail.
It was only a few more minutes before we reached the Ducktrap River where we paused to observe the rushing water on its path towards the coast. I commented about how pretty everything looked but I heard not a word from my unhappy partner. Finally we turned away from the river and began the slow journey back towards the car. I stopped a few times, waiting for my spouse to trudge up behind me before continuing our return journey. As we finished our expedition, I looked back at my tired partner plodding on with shoulders slumped and sad expression as he labored towards the finish line. The poor man looked like he had been beaten with a stick. Oh well, spring will be here soon and then we can deal with mud season, which is something we did not have to face in this preserve that’s known to be “wet even during the dry season”.
Once home I looked at my photos and realized we had last traveled through Tanglewood exactly one year ago. What a difference between the snow covered trails this year and spring like weather and wet trails a year ago.
By the end of our snow filled weekend, the temperature climbed once more into the balmy region and the water poured off the roof as the snow began to melt. Three days were all we were going to have to enjoy some winter activities. With this in mind we decided to test the conditions of the trail up towards Beech Hill.
Beech Hill is not a long or difficult climb but it does offer some fantastic views from the top of the hill. As we walked around the field, the snow texture ranged from firm to slushy depending upon whether there was sun exposure or shade. Once the trail began its gentle ascent up the hill, it became more difficult to maneuver around the ruts and holes left by those who had gone before. We had to constantly watch the ground in order to avoid falling through the sometimes icy, sometimes slushy, uneven terrain.
Since the snowfalls over that week had been of the dry snow variety, there were many bare spots near the top of the hill where the wind had swept away the white carpet. This also applied to the trail, where the dirt patches had turned to mud with the warming temperatures. I was disappointed in the thought that “mud season” would soon be upon us, a condition that would limit our outings for the near future.
At the top of the hill, we looked out across the bay towards Acadia National Park and its snow covered mountains. It was quite windy on the open hilltop, so we lingered for a few minutes in the protection of the Beech Nut House veranda. Safely tucked away from the cold gusty breeze, I admired the line of mountains in the distance. We admired the views for a few minutes before heading back down the hill.
Halfway down the hill, I paused to admire the artistry of one more winter plant contrasted against the snow. I thought the beauty of all the seasons, even in the remains of this plant that would soon disperse those seeds and cover the hill with the beauty of spring.
The first free day after our week of snow, we grabbed our snowshoes and headed out to Erickson Field. In the parking field we met a man who had just returned to his car for his snowshoes, informing us that they were definitely needed in walking along the trail. Since we move at a slower pace, we let him get ahead of us before setting off.
A pretty stiff wind was blowing across the field, and it was interesting watching the winter weeds dancing in the breeze. A lone mullein plant stood tall above the rest. Continuing on our way, we found that our snowshoes were a necessity in negotiating the meadow, for there had been very little traffic along this route. This was surprising, since it was now several days after the snowstorm and most people in the area do like their outdoor activities. But then, we entered the woods and discovered the trail was packed down by those who had hit the trail before us. Interesting! The snowfall had been light and fluffy, so the wind across the open spaces was strong enough to erase any trace of previous use.
Once in the woods, we meandered along the loop trail stopping now and then to admire the beauty of some snow covered scene. The man we had met in the parking field passed us twice and we commented about his speed. He did claim that his dog was setting the pace, so we didn’t feel too bad about our progress. I do think that we had the better experience by keeping a stride that allowed us the time to enjoy the beauty around us. It certainly allowed us to notice the snow-capped mushrooms climbing up the remains of a birch tree!
When we finished the wooded loop and came back out to the meadow, we found that our tracks had also been swept away by the breeze. We stopped once more to enjoy the remains of some wild plants visible above the snow before completing our first and possibly only snowshoe adventure this winter.
There had been just enough snow during the first few days of February for us to get outside and enjoy the benefits of a winter wonderland but not enough for us to dust off our snowshoes. Since we also did not want to deal with a treacherous uphill climb, we looked around for something that would take us through some relatively flat terrain. We thought we found our answer in a land trust preserve called the McLellan Poor Preserve located on the opposite side of the Belfast reservoir and the Little River Community Trail.
We brought our micro-spikes just in case but with the fluffy white groundcover we assumed we would not need them. In fact, as soon as we slipped out of the car we grabbed the spikes in order to continue our walk. At the kiosk we discovered we had a choice of two trails, one that would take us towards the reservoir and another loop through the interior of the preserve. The access to both, required crossing a bridge over Brewster’s Brook and a stream crossing which was notated on the map as “no bridge, a walking stick may be helpful.” We assumed that if there was no bridge the stream crossing should be manageable so without any further thought on the matter we set off.
There is a special beauty about walking in a pine forest in the winter, something that brings peace to my soul. The trail followed a ravine and we stopped a few times to just soak in the beauty of it all. We also took the opportunity to give thanks for having the right gear for this hike, noticing that those travelers who had gone before us had slipped a number of times, brushing the fine snow away to reveal the ice underneath.
We crossed the bridge at Brewster’s Brook with ease as we continued our journey towards the split between the two trails. It wasn’t look before we reached the stream crossing at Ramsey Brook and discovered there was no way to get across. Perhaps the water level was lower in the summer and making one’s way with a walking stick across the stones in the stream could be accomplished with little difficulty but attempting this in winter seemed an impossibility. This was no little stream! We stared at the blue marker about 20 feet on the opposite side of this body of water, wondering if there was some way we could continue. My husband walked a few yards along the stream in both directions but could not find a suitable crossing. I tentatively tested the ice, only to have my foot go through. Fortunately, the water did not flow over the top of my boot. We noticed that others had tried to cross by the footsteps that had broken through the ice. They had reached a small finger of land in the middle of the stream but it did not look like they had gone much further. My husband explored this option but did not think they could have gone over the dam of trees and brush that would have taken them to the opposite shore.
Disappointed, we turned around vowing to come back another day, although without drought conditions I’m not sure how we will be able to explore the rest of the McLellan Poor preserve.