ELLSWORTH, Maine — New trails in Ellsworth’s Branch Lake Public Forest mean three more miles for snowshoeing, skiing or simply enjoying snow-covered trees and paths this winter.
Work on the new trails was completed recently, the product of two months of cutting, clearing and building by a Maine Conservation Corps crew that began in October. The new trails are an addition to the 1.3 mile route built by the same crew in 2011.
“All of these developed trails will be great for winter activities, so long as we get more snow than we got last year,” said John Wedin, and Ellsworth city employee and the unofficial steward of Branch Lake.
Wedin is working to create some signs for the trails, making it easier for recreationalists to find their way around. Without the signs, the area can be a little confusing. The trails branch off an old woods road, and it can be difficult to tell which paths are official trails.
“The signs will be important,” said City Planner Michele Gagnon. “Most of the people who will use these trails aren’t the ‘put a compass in my hand and let me bushwhack my way back out’ type.”
The additional trail mileage creates a second loop along the eastern shore of Branch Lake, about a half mile north of a loop trail built in 2011. It crosses two small streams — the Maine Conservation Corps crew had to build two foot bridges — and part of a marsh.
Gagnon said the Branch Lake Public Forest trails system has been funded by a $45,000 grant from Land for Maine’s Future, a nonprofit that supports protection of recreational outdoor spaces.
While the public forest trails are great for winter recreation, Gagnon and Wedin urge visitors to take vehicles equipped for snow and ice. The parking lot from which the trails originate is one mile off U.S. Route 1A, and smaller vehicles without snow tires may have a hard time getting in and out.
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.
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.