Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network consists of a main trail called the 1.35-mile Hastings Trail, as well as a side trail to the hatchery. Both trails travel through a mixed forest over fairly even terrain. Exposed tree roots, wooden bridges and a few rocky areas may make footing tricky from time to time.
How to get there: The Green Lake Nature Trails are located at the Green Lake National Fish Hatchery on Route 180 (Mariaville Road) in Ellsworth, approximately 4.2 miles from where Route 180 intersects with Route 1A at the entrance of Boggy Brook Business Park in Ellsworth.
Information: Ghost towns, glaciers and freshwater ecosystems are three topics you’ll learn about while walking the Green Lake Nature Trails in Ellsworth. Just under two miles in total length, these walking trails travel through the quiet forest surrounding Green Lake National Fish Hatchery and visit the shore of the Green Lake. Along the way, a few informational displays help visitors interpret the landscape.
The trail network has been under construction for about four years and is almost completed, according to Fred Trasko, a fisheries biologist at the hatchery. The public is welcome to walk the trails, but the official opening won’t be held until next spring — probably in June because in early spring, the hatchery will be busy stocking fish, Trasko said.
“Signage needs to be completed,” Trasko said. “It’s important the public knows that parts of the trail are still under construction.”
A trail map is posted on a kiosk at the trailhead, which is just outside the gate at the beginning of the hatchery road. While visitors are welcome to drive down the hatchery road, trail users are asked to park outside the gate because it is closed and locked at 4 p.m. each day, and on occasion, earlier.
The trail network currently consists of just two trails: the main trail, called the Hastings Trail, and a side trail that leads to the hatchery. As of October, the trails were marked with small, green, diamond-shaped signs posted to trees, as well as flagging tape. These trail markers will be improved before the grand opening next spring, Trasko said.
The Hastings Trail starts at the trailhead kiosk and travels through the woods south of the hatchery for about 1.35 miles to reach the southeast shore of Green Lake, where it ends at a beautiful granite memorial bench for Ed Hastings, whom the trail is named after. An environmental scientist, Ed Hastings was an officer of the nonprofit Friends of Green Lake National Fish Hatchery and worked with salmon on the Penobscot River as a contractor for NOAA Fisheries in Orono. He passed away in 2006.
From the bench, visitors can watch for bald eagles, which are often seen perched in nearby white pines, fishing the waters of the Green Lake.
Informational displays are spaced out along the Hastings Trail.
Starting from the trailhead, the first display is about glacial erratics, boulders left on the landscape by receding glaciers during the last ice age. The trail passes by many of these interesting rocks.
A short distance past the glacial erratics display, a side trail to the hatchery splits off to your right. This trail leads to the hatchery buildings and the hatchery road, which you can follow back to the trailhead for a 0.77-mile loop hike.
However, if you continue following the Hastings Trail, you’ll soon pass by vernal pools, temporary pools of water that are important habitats for certain animals, such as salamanders, fairy shrimp and frogs.
These special pools will be located to your left, according to the trail map, but may be dried up, depending on the time of year.
After crossing a few wooden bridges and winding around several boulders, the trail crosses a powerline corridor, which is home to a number of low-lying bushes, mosses and lichens. Since this corridor is cleared of trees, the trail is marked by little rock piles called cairns in
At this point, you are more than halfway to the lake.
Beyond the power lines, the trail travels through a shady stand of evergreens and passes by the remains of three homesteads. Only the cellar holes and a few rusted relics remain of what were once family homes near the shore of Green Lake. Near the third cellar hole is an informational sign about this little “ghost town.”
The last informational display is located at the memorial bench near the lake shore and is about Maine’s freshwater ecosystems.
Just before the bench, a spur trail leads visitors over a wooden walkway to a dam and the end of the hatchery road. Visitors are welcome to walk along the paved road (rather than backtrack on the trail) to make their hike into a 1.83-mile loop.
Visitor guidelines are yet to be posted on the trailhead kiosk or online, but Trasko said that dogs are permitted on the trails if on leash.
Construction of the Green Lake Nature Trails has been a joint effort by multiple organizations and government bodies, which are posted at the trailhead. Pete Coleman from Pathmaker Trail Services was instrumental in the trail’s design and construction, as were many volunteers.
Green Lake National Fish Hatchery is involved in restoring Atlantic salmon, which is one the nation’s most significantly depleted fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This includes producing smolts (young salmon) for distribution into rivers of Maine and New Hampshire. The hatchery also conducts field research to assess populations.
For information, call the hatchery at 667-9531.
Personal note: I jumped the gun. I admit it. When I saw the trail map for the Green Lake Nature Trails posted beside Route 180, I got excited and hiked the trails before they were even completed. Fortunately, the hatchery is OK with me sharing my adventure with you. Just beware, if you decide to hike the trails before next spring, the trail markers may be a bit spaced apart. I could follow the trail just fine, but I had the help of Oreo, the ultimate canine hiking companion.
The forest surrounding Green Lake National Fish Hatchery was a beautiful place when I visited on Oct. 23. At first, the trail was covered with what looked like bright yellow polkadots — the round leaves of bigtooth aspen, occasionally mixed with the large pale yellow leaves of striped maple. Then I passed through stands of red maple, which also had yellow leaves, but with splotches of deep red.
As Oreo and I moved along the trail, I continued to pay attention to the fallen leaves, noticing that the forest floor changed as if covered by different area rugs. Here a carpet of golden red oak leaves; there a carpet of long, orange white pine needles dotted with bright red maple leaves; and there a carpet of crispy beech leaves fringed by shrunken ferns that had turned a rich gold. I was intrigued by the variety.
Oreo was less interested. He wanted to go, go, go.
Despite the trail not being 100 percent complete, we managed to follow it easily. The way was well packed by local residents, and flagging tape and trail signs were almost always in sight.
Along the way, we ran into a man who was working on the trail, constructing beautiful wooden bridges and walkways, installing stone steps and smoothing out especially uneven sections of the trail. Over Oreo’s rude barking, he let me know about a hollow maple up ahead that had mushrooms growing up its interior. Seeing my camera, he thought I might want
to take a picture. I thanked him for the tip and moved on. When we found the tree, Oreo tried to crawl inside.
Usually during this time of year, I try to choose a Halloween-themed outdoor adventure. In the past, I’ve hiked a trail that leads to an old cemetery in the woods; explored a reportedly haunted trail; and dressed up in costume. This year, I couldn’t think of anything, and I was bummed. So as you can probably imagine, I was pretty excited when I came to the “ghost town” display near the end of the Hastings Trail. The hike had a little Halloweeny flavor after all.
At the end of the hike, I spotted an immature bald eagle sitting high in a pine by the water. I knew it was a young eagle because its feathers were a mix of dark brown, medium brown and white. It takes bald eagles about five years to develop their adult plumage — a solid brown body with a white tail and white head.