Visit Maine state parks for a fitness fix

Posted Sept. 14, 2012, at 3 p.m.

Quick – what is your reaction to the phrase “state park?”

If I asked this question to a random group of people, I’m guessing I would receive an assortment of words and phrases. And, truth be told, that’s not a bad thing at all. State parks and public lands are intended to serve a variety of public purposes.

One of those purposes is to provide for healthy activities in the outdoors. While there are certainly spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects to “healthy activities,” I’d like to focus on the physical component. Maine’s state parks and public lands are tremendous places to burn calories, build muscle and endurance, and generally have a healthier body through exercise.

Parks and public lands can serve as a daily fitness locale or a special destination. Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal serves as a great example of a relatively local opportunity for folks in the Portland area to routinely stop in for trail activity. Walkers, runners and mountain bikers in southern Maine take advantage of a robust and diverse trail network found at the park. The eastern (campground) side of the park is extremely popular with mountain bikers, who volunteer and ride on an array of narrow single-track trails flowing amid the forested environment. The western half of the park includes the low mountain summit, which provides a peaceful view of parts of eastern Cumberland County. Year round, Bradbury is a trails and fitness destination, as several trails are managed in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in addition to limited snowmobiling.

Farther up the coast, Camden Hills State Park is yet another place to burn off the calories in a scenic setting. Known for classic Civilian Conservation Corps-designed hiking trails, the park also offers opportunities to bike and ski. The 5-mile multiuse trail, for instance, is available for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and horseback riding. The wide, graveled surface on the multiuse trail is an alternative to the wonderful, albeit far-from-smooth hiking trails. Camden Hills State Park is one of those places that serve both “regulars” and visitors traveling from afar to experience the park for the first time.

Parks and public lands all around the state provide trail-based fitness opportunities. Places such as Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle, with its 15-mile network of groomed Nordic ski trails in addition to hiking and snowshoeing trails, showcases much of what is so appealing about Aroostook County’s outdoors. Likewise, Mt. Blue State Park in Weld and nearby Tumbledown Public Lands cumulatively enable active trail users to sweat away on rugged hikes (e.g., Mt. Blue, Tumbledown) or on diverse trails such as those emanating from the park headquarters at Center Hill. These multiuse trails accommodate ATV riders, walkers, runners and mountain bikers in summer months, and during the winter months they transition to a snowmobile trail, classic-style groomed Nordic ski trails, plus two snowshoeing routes.

Maine’s public lands are not, with a few minor exceptions, close to population centers. Some of these large, conserved areas are, in fact, very far removed from any significant population at all. That doesn’t mean they are out of consideration when it comes to exercise, however.

For example, climbing the Wright Trail almost five miles up to the summit of Goose Eye Mountain in the Mahoosuc Public Lands is a pretty solid workout. Similarly, day-hiking the 12-mile Debsconeag Backcountry Trail in the Nahmakanta Public Lands will burn off your doughnuts and coffee (note: not a suggested “power breakfast”).

If on vacation at some of these remote places, you can find exercise opportunities, even if there are not significant hiking trails like those mentioned. Many of Maine’s public lands have what are known as “shared use roads.” These are roads open to passenger vehicles and logging trucks, but the “shared-use designation” denotes that use of ATVs, horses and bicycles also is allowed, along with the standard pedestrian use. These roads are typically not nearly as busy as a local road, state route, etc., and there is the opportunity to view scenery and wildlife without vehicles screeching past all the time.

There is no excuse, therefore, to skip that morning jog or bike ride just because you’re camping at a vehicle access campsite on one of our public lands. Note: Bicycles are prohibited at public lands within the North Maine Woods system.

Before leaving this topic of active recreation on Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands properties, it is important to share one last type of destination, which is of significance to both local residents and those looking to travel.

There are more than 275 miles of multiuse rail trail in Maine managed by the Division of Parks and Public Lands, under the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. These relatively wide, gravel trails with gentle slopes can be attractive for bikers, runners, walkers and Nordic skiers. They are managed to provide snowmobile and ATV use, so fitness enthusiasts should be prepared to share the trails with motorized vehicle users.

As with any properties or activities mentioned here, check out www.parksandlands.com for more information.

Maine’s parks and public lands are intended to be destinations for many reasons, including active recreation. We want the trails to be used and loved. Helping our communities be healthier is part of what we strive for. So, come on out and don’t forget your jogging shorts, bike helmet, walking sneakers, skis, snowshoes, hiking boots, or whatever else you need to raise your heart rate in truly special settings.

Rex Turner is the outdoor recreation planner for the Maine Division of Parks and Lands.

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