ELLSWORTH, Maine — This fall, a crew of six trailblazers from Maine Conservation Corps will be hard at work clearing more than two miles of walking trails near the south end of Branch Lake.
The city council in May approved a $22,500 contract to have the corps build the trails during a six-week period starting in October. The money for the project comes from funds earmarked for conservation and recreation around Branch Lake.
The project will more than double the length of the city’s trail system in the Branch Lake Public Forest, a 240-acre city-owned parcel within a broader 1,200-acre conservation area.
The public forest is accessible via a mile-long, unnamed, dirt access road off U.S. Route 1A, north of downtown. The city’s first trail, a 1.4-mile stretch with a loop along the lake’s shore, opened last summer.
The new 2.6-mile trail will branch from the existing one about a half mile from the gravel parking lot at the trail system’s entrance. It will snake north, through wet woods and across a small stream toward the lake’s edge, then loop around to send hikers back toward the first trail.
“It winds through these mossy, forested wetlands and then along the shore,” said Elena Piekut, assistant to the city planner, on Friday. Piekut recently walked the planned trail to flag the route for clearing. “It’s pretty flat and short but long enough to be decent exercise.”
The crew will also install, where necessary, the same kind of “bog bridges” already in place at the existing trail, Piekut said. These cedar planks keep walkers out of the wettest parts of the trail. The contract also includes installation of an information kiosk at the head of the trail system.
The city acquired the Branch Lake Public Forest from the Mary C. Fenn Trust in 2010 as part of a $2.4 million conservation initiative that protects nearly 1,200 acres of Branch Lake Watershed.
In the deal, financed in part by Land For Maine’s Future grant money, the city bought 451 acres, with the rest of the conserved land held by The Forest Society of Maine, which holds a working forest easement on 745 acres protecting the conservation values of the property and providing for the sustainable harvest of timber.
The conservation effort is meant to protect the health and safety of the lake, which is Ellsworth’s drinking water supply.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.