So, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Where is part I?” Read more here: A Hike For Every Season.
by Colin Brown
As an avid hiker, there are numerous hikes, walks, and strolls in the Downeast Lakes Community Forest that offer a wide range of distances and difficulties to suit all ages. But, it seems that certain locations naturally amplify the seasonal changes, inviting people to take a moment and become an intricate part of the landscape. Here are my favorites for autumn and winter….
Autumn – Tower Hill Trail
The mornings are cool and crisp, and all creatures, big and small, are in deep preparation for the oncoming cold. Autumn is an incredible time of year to explore the Downeast Lakes Community Forest, and my personal favorite trail for fall is the Tower Hill Trail. With parking located at the West Grand Lake Dam lot, follow the snowmobile trail over the dam, pass the boathouse which used to house the local Maine Forest Service ranger, and head up the hill. Turn left onto the well-worn path, and you come upon a hardwood knoll where the Grand Lake Stream Fire Tower sits. The last remaining enclosed, wooden fire tower in New England, this tower was built in 1934 and managed by the Maine Forest Service to monitor the Downeast Lakes region. For safety purposes, please do not enter the structure, but admire its ability to stand the test of time. Just beyond the tower, the trail turns right, and meanders through northern hardwood forest filled with fall’s colors – the yellows of birch, reds of maple, browns of beech, and many dazzling greens of accompanying softwoods. Over the ridge, the trail drops in elevation, revealing a dense cedar stand, filled with fungi of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Pass over the bog bridging, and climb back up – passing massive glacial erratics, the lightning pine (you’ll know it when you see it…), and an exposed beech ridge with wild blueberries. From here, the trail descends, crossing Bonney Brook Road (look both ways!) and winds through highbush blueberry and huckleberry thickets, offering gorgeous views of Bonney Brook Lake. During autumn, the heath that surrounds this small pond turns several shades of brilliant reds, violets, and oranges. From here, the trail once again crosses the road, and leads back to the snowmobile trail you started on, climbing up for a second encounter with the GLS fire tower. This lollipop loop can all be explored from the village of Grand Lake Stream, and affords some of the prettiest colors of hiking’s finest season. Be sure to wear blaze orange during hunting season, and don’t forget to bring your camera!
Winter – Musquash Esker Trail
This trail, while enjoyable during all seasons, has a special touch of magic to it in the dead of winter. Parking is located approximately 5 miles outside of Grand Lake Stream, on the north side of Milford Road, about ¼ mile before the bridge that crosses Big Musquash Stream. The Musquash Esker Trail has recently been converted into an all-accessible trail, with a crushed stone surface which affords those of all mobilities an opportunity to explore this glacial wonder. An esker is a narrow ribbon of sand, silt, and gravel of a former stream bed which ran beneath the monstrous glaciers that once covered the Northeast. This flat, winding path passes through a former gravel pit, a small pond that plays host to a variety of bird and amphibian species, and a mixed hardwood forest. The trail is 1.4 miles long, and ends at Big Musquash Stream, with a viewing platform that overlooks a 5,000-acre+ wetland complex, complete with wide-ranging views of Amazon Mountain and one of the finest examples of a domed bog ecosystem in Maine. With the deep snows of Downeast Maine and level elevation, this trail is ideal to explore via snowshoes or cross-country skis. While their use is infrequent, snowmobiles are permitted, so please exercise caution on this multi-use path. Look for tracks of deer, moose, and the many animals which are active during the winter months. The Musquash Esker Trail usually provides a great chance at spotting the elusive Spruce Grouse, and many other species of winter finches. In the depths of winter, this trail is exceptionally peaceful and quiet, offering bold winter explorers true solitude in the Downeast Lakes Community Forest.