Difficulty: Easy. The main trails are wide, gravel and mostly smooth, making much of the trail network accessible to off-road strollers and wheelchairs.

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male belted kingfisher
male belted kingfisher

How to get there: To reach the main entrance, start at the intersection of Stillwater Avenue and Essex Street in Bangor. Drive 0.7 mile on Essex Street and turn right onto Watchmaker Street. Drive to the end of Watchmaker Street to a large parking area for Essex Woods, where there’s a dog park.

The trail network also has trailheads at the ends of Molly Lane and Garden Way.

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Information: In the midst of the bustling city of Bangor is a 70-acre piece of wilderness called Essex Woods, accessible by more than 2 miles of trails. Trail runners, wildlife watchers, bicyclists, geocachers and dog walkers visit the woods and wetlands year round, and in the winter, people ski the trails and slide down the property’s popular sledding hill.

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Some people never would guess that this piece wilderness, filled with a variety of wildlife and flora, was once a local dump site. But if you look here and there, especially in the wetlands, you’ll notice tires and other debris being claimed by nature.

The main trails of the Essex Woods are gravel, wide and fairly smooth and travel from the main parking at the end of Watchmaker Street across the woods and around the marsh to the kiosk and trailhead at the end of Garden Way. Along the way, the trail splits a few times. There are also a few narrower footpaths. Therefore, it’s best to carry a map with you until you learn how to navigate the trail network. Maps can be found at www.bangormaine.gov on the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department “trails” page.

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Many people visit the trails to check out the wildlife that lives in and around the property’s wetlands. During the spring, summer and fall, the freshwater marsh is home to a variety of water birds, songbirds, and on occasion, hawks and eagles will visit the marsh to hunt.

Dogs are permitted without a leash but must be kept under control. Pick up and pack out all waste. A dog park consisting of two large, fenced-in enclosures is located at the parking area at the end of Watchmaker Street.

Geocaches — hidden containers that include logbooks and small prizes — can be found throughout the trail network by GPS coordinates that are posted on websites such as geocaching.com. Be sure

Many mallards
Sleepy mallards.

to learn geocaching rules before embarking on your quest to find caches.

For information, call 992-4490 or email parks.rec@bangormaine.gov.

Personal note: I remember driving along I-95 one day and seeing people walking along the edge of a marsh nearby. From my perspective, I couldn’t tell if they were walking on an actual trail, so I wondered, how did they get down there? Why were they down there?

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Months later, my friend Sharon gave me directions to Essex Woods so we could meet and photograph wildlife together. I’d never been there, though I’d heard her talk abou the trail network several times.

I parked at the end of Garden Way, met Sharon, and as we walked down the gravel trail, the trees disappeared and I found myself at the edge of a marsh. To my right and up a hill, cars flew by on I-95. It was an “aha” moment.

Green heron.
Green heron.

That day, we spotted a green heron hunting in the shallows, a sandpiper sleeping on a half-submerged tire, two great egrets preening their white feathers, kingfishers and cedar waxwings perched in dead trees and, in the forest along the edge of the marsh, a downy woodpecker, chickadees, eastern phoebes, a variety of finches and a gray catbird. Also, it’s pretty hard to miss the giant group of mallard ducks, some of which are bold enough to walk right up to people.

Canada geese.
Canada geese.

I’ve returned to the trails a few times since to walk my dog Oreo, photograph wildlife and geocache. And during those visits, I’ve added added to my Essex Woods wildlife list. In the water, I’ve seen Canada geese, green-winged teals and great blue herons. I also spotted a beaver, it’s head held above water as it swam. And I also spotted a merlin, a small raptor that was likely hunting the small songbirds in the area.

Oreo.
Oreo.

I know some of you are probably wondering how Oreo dealt with all of the birds. It’s strange. He vehemently pursues squirrels and groundhogs, but he seems to have no quarrel with birds. Only once did he try to follow a mallard into the marsh, and it seemed more out of curiosity than a desire to wring its neck. I’m happy to learn that he’s a reasonable birdwatching companion, though if I pause too long during our walks, he does tend to whine.

What did catch Oreo’s attention during one of our walk at Essex Woods were the two house cats wearing harnesses and being walked by leash. I was quite taken aback myself, so I asked their owner, a Bangor resident, a few questions. The white cat, which had one blue eye and one golden eye, was named Snowflake; and the grey cat was named Mouse. Both had been strays before they came to his home, and he taught them to walk reasonably well on leash by keeping their harnesses on them for periods of time indoors. Go figure.

Snowflake.
Snowflake.

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