The Rolland F. Perry City Forest and I have what you might call a complicated relationship.
It just may be my very favorite place in the city, yet on more than one occasion I have become confused within its boundaries and cursed its limited signage.
Some appeared to have scoffed at the idea of someone becoming lost in the City Forest as 45-year-old Deborah Roche did last week.
Not me. I completely understood and so, as it turns out, did plenty of others who have become turned around in the 630-acre wooded trail system.
As Sgt. Ralph Hosford of the Maine Warden Service said so eloquently, “There are oodles of trails that go in every direction.”
Police began searching for Roche when she failed to show up to work on Friday. They located her car in the City Forest parking lot on Kittredge Road as the sun was setting, but she was nowhere to be found.
A mobile command post was set up and searchers and dogs scoured the forest, finding Roche just after 7 a.m. Saturday, wet and suffering from hypothermia.
Our kids were perhaps 10 and 7 years old the first time we ventured into those woods. It was Mother’s Day, and since I got my pick of activities I opted for a family hike into the forest I had heard some co-workers talking about.
Are you kidding? It’s a CITY Forest for heaven’s sake. It’s about a half a mile away from the Bangor Mall. How difficult can it be to navigate?
Plus the wooden box located in the parking lot, that was supposed to hold the maps was empty.
Which, I have learned, it almost always is.
It was a sunny spring day and we had set off along the trails, which intersected with some dirt roads.
Anyone who has hiked with kids knows that it’s all fun and games in the beginning, but when their feet get tired and their bellies growl, the fun is 100 percent done.
I admit to being directionally challenged. I admit when I am lost.
My husband does not. He just keeps leading the way as if he’s sure of our direction.
A one-hour hike became two and was going on three and the clouds moved in and the rain started to fall and we came across no one and it was getting late in the day.
At one point I was actually searching the forest floor for something that I could collect rain water in for fear that we were going spend the night there.
I wouldn’t admit to this, except that I must because kids the ages of 7 and 10 never forget a freakin’ thing and remind me of it whenever the subject of the City Forest comes up.
We stumbled onward and finally, blessedly, heard a voice that belonged to a nice man who pointed us in the direction of the parking lot.
My kids have never been back. They’ve decided that brunch is a nice way to celebrate Mother’s Day.
I, however, keep going back.
A couple of years ago, I met up with local legend George Hale on one of the trails. He looked a little weary.
“Is this the way to the parking lot?” he asked.
A friend of mine recently admitted that she and her daughter got lost in there, used their cellphone to call her husband who went online and found a map and directed them out.
In various locations, there are metal signs nailed to wooden posts with some of the trails outlined and a “You Are Here” icon, that gives no directional indication whatsoever, and is virtually no help at all. Plus the signs are so faded they are useless.
An effort should be made to update them. I’m thinking it could be a great scouting project.
There are maps available online at cityforest.bangorinfo.com and anyone would be well-advised to print one off before hitting the trails, especially alone.
It’s a priceless resource that is so close at hand and large enough that you can have a great solo hike even if the parking lot is full.
But take a map and a cellphone and don’t be embarrassed to ask a fellow hiker the way to the parking lot.