When Scott Bennett from Orrington invited me by e-mail to join him and the members of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club on a hike last Sunday, I was intrigued.
It was his description that got me curious. In the e-mail, he wrote, “Hatchet Mountain in Hope, Maine, contains the only public trail on conserved land in the town. The trail climbs more than 537 feet in its half-mile length to fantastic views of the Camden Hills from the west (or inland side).” He went on to say that we’d be hik-ing up a road which he described as “a remarkable piece of engineering.” But those weren’t the only reasons to hike.
Scott also planned a second hike that day of 2½ miles along a long-abandoned canal trail in Searsmont up the road seven miles from Hope. That trail is an interpretive one, with a self-guided trail map at numbered places along the length. Both hikes sounded like good warmup spring hikes, to sort of shake off winter. I signed up with Scott, the new member hike leader for the Bangor chapter of MOAC, and met the rest of the group at the trail on Hatchet Mountain Road a mile outside of Hope village.
There were about a dozen of us who squeezed our cars tightly into the new parking lot. Scott introduced himself, as did we all, then he gave a brief description of the history of the 27-acre property. It is now owned by the Coastal Mountain Land Trust and provides the only hiking trail on publicly owned land in town. It was a great community effort to acquire the property he said. Then, after we all introduced ourselves, we set off on the dirt and grass road.
It rose steeply as soon as we left the parking lot. We moved kind of slowly, getting acquainted with new folks and recognizing people we met from other hikes. I walked with a couple of guys I knew, Bruce Napolitano and Jim Rohman, both from Waterville and experienced hikers. I also recalled seeing Gloria Howard, from Veazie, on a hike a year ago on Great Pond Mountain in Orland. She was with a friend this time, Sue Sullivan. The bunch of us hiked more or less together with another group in front as we wound our way up to the first view.
The view was, as promised, spectacular. We had a cloudless blue day to take it all in. Scott pointed out some of the features in the scene such as Ragged Mountain in Camden, Vinalhaven and North Haven in Penobscot Bay, Blue Hill, Mount Waldo and Megunticook Lake, just to name a few. We soon moved on just a short bit farther to the 1,103-foot summit. There we stood around on the bare ledges and I got a chance to meet a few more of the rest of the group.
There were more women along on this hike than usual. They actually outnumbered the men. Nancy Graham brought along her chocolate lab, Abby, who carried a tennis ball in her mouth all the way up the mountain. The others I met were Karen Woodberry, Terry Moulton, Hildegarde Heary, Kathie McCatherin and Sharon Hannan. We all arrived for the hike from all over, from as far away as Portland and Lincoln. There were a variety of age groups, from 30-something to 60. There was one other guy whom I hadn’t met before, Dennis Carignan from Limerick.
After a short pause, we headed back down the road and at the parking lot, all agreed to meet at the Hope General Store for a lunch. Lunch eaten, it was back in the cars for the short ride to Searsmont and the canal hike. The hike starts just across the bridge over the St. George River. There we gathered together again before leav-ing on the trail on the Georges River Land Trust property.
We walked along the riverbank and watched as a few kayakers played in the quick water. There were also a couple of fly fisherman wading and casting the river. We had our self guided maps from the kiosk at the start of the trail and were soon in the woods, divided into a couple of smaller groups along the trail.
We were actually hiking on the earthen dike of one side of the canal, built in the 1700s. The building and operation of the canal is clearly illustrated on weatherproof interpretive panels. It’s a fascinating history of transportation between the early settlements in this river valley. It was made of wood, now since long gone. The ca-nal’s earthwork remains parallel the river and really should be seen to understand how it worked to move boats upriver and down, around a rocky section.
In one spot the trail arrives at a panel that shows a breach in the 18-foot dike. The trail descended into the breach, then back up onto the earthen berm again on the other side. You really got an idea of the size of the canal on that short section. The path skirts around some bottomland away from the river, then back to join it to make a loop. One of us hikers, Hildegarde, was stopped at a numbered signpost and reading about the place were we stood on the riverbank. It was a place called the “Stepping Stones,” featured in a novel, “Come Spring.” She had read the book and loved it, she said.
We all found ourselves back at the cars before we realized it. We all felt like the hike was a great success and thanked Scott for leading us. He said, “Everyone on this hike had never been to the mountain or the canal before. That is extra special, when I can take someone to someplace they’ve never been before. Thanks to every-one for coming.”
As we said our goodbyes I overheard a few comments from some of the others in the group. They were talking about spring and the conditions we had that day. Bruce Napolitano said, “This is the first time I haven’t needed crampons.” Jim Rohman responded with, “I just took my skis out of the truck.” Gloria said, “I usually pack for anything in spring. I didn’t need to today.”
One of the most memorable parts of the hike for me was when we were on the mountain. The view of the distant features such as Cadillac Mountain was outstanding, but the view I liked the most was looking down on the village of Hope. If there ever was a place that deserved the term, “quintessential,” it is Hope, with its white church steeple, neat houses and ball field. The people there must be proud of the mountain in their midst and their effort to protect it.
BRAD VILES PHOTO
Gloria Howard (left) and Sue Sullivan from Veazie hiked along the canal path beside the Georges River in Searsmont last Sunday. The hike was organized by the Bangor Chapter of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club.