BY REX TURNER
OUTDOOR RECREATION PLANNER
MAINE BUREAU OF PARKS AND LANDS
Halloween with its ghosts and ghouls, costume parties, and sugar highs has come and gone. All we’re left with is candy wrappers and memories. This year, my Halloween included visits to several “haunted trails,” including a short, homemade one carved out of the woods behind my house as part of a family pumpkin-carving party.
I helped several of my nieces put together this pathway, littered with little plastic ghosts, cardboard headstones, and a couple of threatening warnings to all who dare enter. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” it was not, but it was fun to see the kids using the trail to get into the “spirit” — pun absolutely intended.
Haunted Halloween trails may have gone away until next October, but haunting trails still beckon. November is a month when forest trails already have given up their last gasp of exuberant color and now show a somber yet chillingly beautiful openness. To keep the spooky theme going, it is a time when one can see the true bones of the forest. Abandoned rock walls emerge. Ledges and streams appear in the unrobed forest. On trails in mixed woods, the patterns of deciduous and evergreen trees become strikingly clear.
November is also a time when cool air really starts to take hold. Early ice and snow can have an almost mystical element. Steaming breath evaporating into the dense trunks of countless trees resonates with a sense of mystery. Again, there is an ethereal aspect to November that only builds on the recently established Halloween vibe.
So, where can one experience such haunting trails in late fall? There really are some great options provided by a range of landowners and managers. Focusing on the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ trails, I can think of a few suggestions.
• Camden Hills State Park offers 30 miles of hiking trails with access at five major trailheads. A range of trail lengths and routes provides the hiker with options based on time and difficulty. The rocky character of the park, combined with scenic views and elements of historical land uses, makes this a good destination for late fall hikes.
• Similarly, Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal is a trail destination with numerous trails to explore, including equestrian and mountain bike trails. Like Camden Hills State Park and unlike a number of other state parks, Bradbury is staffed year round, albeit at a reduced level.
•Located in Dover-Foxcroft, Peaks-Kenny State Park offers a 10-mile-long, interconnected network of hiking trails. With the onset of cold weather and the seasonal closure of the park’s operations, your likelihood of finding trail time alone is increased, and there are wonderful trail settings to enjoy behind the closed entrance gate. Certainly, there are many other Maine state park trails, as well as an array of Maine public lands trails that also would make great November destinations; these few suggestions are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
While November is a fine time to hike, it must be mentioned that hunting, particularly deer hunting with firearms, is the reigning king of the month’s outdoor pursuits. That does not mean you need to hang up your hiking boots. It does mean, however, you need to take appropriate safety measures.
Remember that approximately 97 percent of state park lands and public reserved lands are open to hunting. Wearing blaze-orange clothing, such as a vest and hat, is not only safe, it’s a respectful courtesy to hunters. Understanding firearms policy and law also is an important part of November hiking and hunting on Maine state parks and public lands.
One key concept to keep in mind is that on Maine public lands loaded firearms are not allowed within 300 feet of campsites, marked hiking trails, or boat launches. In state parks, the discharge of weapons is prohibited from or within 300 feet of any picnic area, camping area or campsite, parking area, building, shelter, boat launch site, posted trail or other developed area. Other rules apply, including a limited number of acres designated off-limits to hunting
So, while the fall foliage has largely dropped, there still are beautiful trail destinations waiting to share their stark beauty. With proper care and planning, this time of year is a great time to continue to be on the trails spread across the state. Forests and shorelines, like an unguarded friend, display an honest, unvarnished grace.
Time spent the trails in November is a treat, not a trick.
For more information about Maine’s state parks, go to: www.parksandlands.com