Community spirit is alive and well in Dixmont. Thanks to a growing collaboration between many groups and individuals, Dixmont residents will soon enjoy their first public walking trail.
Judy Dann, Dixmont’s first selectperson, said the town’s long-term plan is to have one public trail in each of Dixmont’s five villages. “It’s been on the back burner for quite a while,” she said. “When this grant came up, it was, ‘Oh! This is an opportunity to get us started.’”
The $1,000 grant, awarded to the Dixmont Conservation Commission by the Healthy Sebasticook Valley Coalition, must be used for a project that gets people exercising and healthy. About $600 will go towards materials and signs, and $400 will go towards hiring students to bushwhack the trail. This involves clearing brush and branches, moving logs, cleaning up trash, and painting guide blazes.
The loop will run on a triangular patch of land owned by the town located behind the town office on Route 9. It will incorporate the old Route 9, now called the Town House Road; the old asphalt will serve as a solid, level base for that leg, which runs from the scenic Dixmont Corner Cemetery to the town office and the way to the town sand shed and the historic Town House. The trail will then loop through the woods on an uneven and engaging forest walk.
Besides the physical-activity focus of the trail, the DCC plans to incorporate many other features. The group will install benches and picnic tables along the way for walkers to rest and relax. Kid-focused activity stations along the woods trail will provide fun physical challenges, and informational signs will educate walkers about Dixmont’s community and natural history. Ideas in the works include scavenger hunts and even geocaches — the sort of things kids would get excited about.
“We want to make it accessible and interesting for all ages,” said Beth Swartz, chair of the DCC. “Ultimately, we’d like to try to link to other trails in town to make it bigger, but right now we’re just focusing on right here.”
This initial loop trail, at just under 1 mile, will be the first public-access trail in town. Visitors will have ample parking at the town office, which is also the location of the town’s veterans’ memorial.
Along with the grant, the DCC will provide some matching funds, in-kind labor, and materials. As part of their community-service credits, high-schoolers may help design and make trail signs and the activity stations.
The project will involve the expertise and input of other community groups, such as the Dixmont Historical Society, the Community Development Committee, and the Cemetery Committee. The DCC is working to involve as many people as it can.
“Dixmont is a rural town; most of us have access to places to walk,” Swartz said. “But what’s special about this trail is it creates an opportunity to bring together other town committees, our school kids, and many other folks in town as well. It’s as much about a sense of community as it is a walk in the woods.”
“When we started looking at where people can congregate in town, we end up in public buildings: the school, the town office,” said DCC member Anne Warner. “[We] wanted to … find other venues for the town to get together. And this walking trail — being centered with the town office, the cemetery, and the Town House — just seemed like the right place to start.”
The loop trail will open no later than June 2013, which will be shortly before the completion of renovations to the Town House. Built in 1836, the Town House was where town meetings were held until moving to the Grange Hall 100 years later. The Town House has been sporadically used since the mid-1950s, but recently had been vacant. Fundraising efforts have resulted in small steps in fixing up the historic structure; renovations should be finished by fall 2013, making the Town House a great anchor to the loop trail — ideally representing Dixmont’s long history.
“I really like the fact that the two ends [of the trail] are bringing the town together,” said Judy Cook of the DCC and the Dixmont Historical Society. “I think it’s a great idea and a great location.”
The DCC will highlight the trail project at the town’s weekend celebration, “Head for the Hills of Dixmont,” on Sept. 8-9. There will be an arts and crafts fair at the Town House, a barbecue at Mainely Apples on Route 7, and a community-wide yard sale involving 25 households. Visitors to the Town House will be introduced to the planned trail, and encouraged to check out the planned route.