By David M. Fitzpatrick
Of The Weekly Staff
DIXMONT, Maine — The Dixmont Conservation Commission has one thing to say to everyone: “Take a hike!”
That’s the advice from commission chairwoman Beth Swartz: take a hike on the new Dixmont Community Walking Trail, which began construction last year with a $1,000 grant from the Healthy Sebasticook Valley Coalition.
“What we tried to do was link the town’s community history with the town’s natural history,” said Swartz. “The Town House, the cemetery, the Veterans Memorial Circle, to link all that together with the trail, so it’s not just the trail in the woods.”
The trail runs between the Dixmont Corner Cemetery and the recently renovated 1836 Town House, paralleling the long-unused stretch of the old Route 9. It’s easily accessible by the town office parking lot, which is adjacent to the foundation of the original Dix homestead.
There’s a lot to see on the 0.4-mile walk, close to a mile if you do a round trip and check out the side trail. Look for wildlife such as frogs and woodpeckers, the self-pruning of trees that don’t get enough sunlight, rock outcrops that hint at the underlying geology, and even a giant fallen oak tree and its dead stump, which is in itself a fascinating ecosystem when you look closely at it.
With just a brief pause and a look, walkers will see many other worlds along that trail, and they’ll be educated thanks to numbered trail signs and an informative trail guide and map. When they find one of the numbered trail signs, they can read up on that number to learn about what they’re seeing. The descriptions range from information about ferns and hemlock trees to lichens and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
“The signs that are out here are something that we hope people will take advantage of and enjoy,” Swartz said. “[We hope] that we can get information out to people about what’s around them in the woods — the wildlife and plants and the geology and other fun natural history facts.”
The trail development has been a community project. The signs were all made by approximately 100 eighth-grade students in Dixmont resident Keith Kelley’s integrated technology class in RSU 19 at the Sebasticook Valley Middle School. The students used computer software to design the signs and 3D printers and carvers to create them. The students also painted and poly-coated them.
The grant money also paid Dixmont high school students Stanley Bernard, Kaitlyn Lindsey, Jackson Pendleton and Angela Silke to help clear the trail, trim branches and small saplings, move rocks, blaze the trail and do other needed work to prepare it for use.
Many volunteers and businesses contributed time, tools, supplies and gas in their chainsaws to get everything done. There are still a few signs to go up and three physical-challenge stations to build, but it’s very usable. Swartz is pleased with the results so far.
“It’s great,” she said. “I hope that people come out and use it. It’s a small spot, but I think if you’re coming to the town office or the town house for other things, it’s a nice opportunity to go take a walk, have a stretch.”
The trail features two cedar benches with concrete footings — one halfway down the trail and the other by the Town House at its end — so walkers can take a breather if they need to sit down. But the trail isn’t particularly arduous.
“You don’t have to be in great shape, but you can come out and enjoy the town’s history, the woods and the wildlife,” Swartz said.
The commission is considering high-tech ways to make the trail more accessible and informative in the future, such as a smartphone app, GPS coordinates, geocaches and other online components. For now, Swartz is pleased with the trail just as it is.
“It’s been a lot of fun for the conservation commission to work on it as a team, and get out here and enjoy being out in the woods together, and also use it as an opportunity to do something for the community, and bringing that historical perspective and the natural history part together,” she said. “I think it’s what’s really special about this trail. We just want people to come out and use it and enjoy it.”
The public can access the Dixmont Community Walking Trail by parking at the town office at 758 Western Ave. (Routes 9/202). Trail maps and natural history guides are available in the town office.