Difficulty: Easy to strenuous, depending on the trails you choose to explore and the time of year. Trail difficulty is labeled on the Pineland Farms trail maps for summer and winter recreation, which are available online and in print at the Pineland Farms Outdoor Center.

A model of the Pineland Farms property on display in the Pineland Farms Market.
A model of the Pineland Farms property on display in the Pineland Farms Market.

How to get there: Pineland Farms Welcome Center is located at 15 Farm View Drive in New Gloucester. To get there from the Maine Turnpike (I-95) take Exit 63 and bear right after the toll booth, toward the center of Grey Village. Stay in the right lane. At the first intersection, go straight through the light onto Route 115. Continue on Route 115 for 1.6 miles, then turn left onto Depot Road. Drive 2.8 miles and you’ll reach a stop sign, turn left onto Route 231 (Intervale Road) then left again onto Morse Road. Turn right into the Pineland Campus. The Pineland Welcome Center and Outdoor Center is the first building on the right.

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Information: Consisting of more than 5,000 acres of fields and forests in southern Maine, Pineland Farms includes working farms, a campus of businesses and education buildings, and a network of more than 18 miles of well-maintained trails that are open to the public year round. These trails vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous, and are labeled as such on the Pineland Farms summer and winter trail maps.

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In the winter, more than half of the trails in the network are groomed for classic cross-country skiing and skate skiing, while the remaining trails are open to snowshoers and fat-tire bikes (bicycles with special, large tires made for riding over packed snow). Also on the property is a popular sledding hill and skating pond, and throughout the trail network are warming huts and bonfires where visitors can toast marshmallows and warm up.

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Using the trails in the winter requires a pass, which you can pick up at the Pineland Farms Welcome Center. Snowshoe passes are $6 a day. Children ages 6 and under are free. Ski passes are $13 a day for adults, $9 for seniors and youth ages 7-17, and children 6 and under free. If you arrive after 1 p.m., these prices are reduced. Season passes are also available.

Rental cross-country ski equipment (boots, poles and skis) and snowshoes are available at the Pineland Farms Outdoor Center, as are several fat-tire bikes and a variety of snowshoes for all ages. The cost to rent equipment varies from $10 for snowshoes to $16 for an adult classic ski package to $24 for a skate ski package.

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During the warmer months of the year, the trails are open to the public for hiking and mountain biking. The property also includes a disc golf course and tennis courts and is home to the state’s largest orienteering course, with 2,500 acres currently mapped.

Trail maps can be picked up at the Outdoor Center, which is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. They can also be picked up at the Welcome Center, which along with the Pineland Farms Market and Cafe, is open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The market
The market

Dogs are not permitted at Pineland Farms. This policy was made to ensure safety for all visitors, wildlife and livestock on the property.

Hunting is by permission only and is strictly prohibited in and around areas where farm or recreational activities take place.

Pineland Farms has a varied and fascinating history, starting in 1908 when it was established as the “Maine School for the Feeble-Minded” and housed people with disabilities. Over the years, the institution transformed and became the Pownal State School, housing people without economic means, problem youths and others, according to Maine Memory Network, which provides a timeline of the property online at mainememory.net.

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In 1939, the Pownal State School included 51 buildings and some 200 employees. The facility was like a town, with its own water system, farms and power plant.

Again, the focus of the center shifted. In the 60s, it became the Pineland Hospital and Training Center, a psychiatric hospital for children and a facility for people with mental disabilities. The hospital kept running for several decades, but due to continued criticisms of this state facility and the rising costs of running it, Pineland closed in 1996.

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Today’s version of Pineland began in 2000, when the property was purchased by the Libra Foundation, a Maine-based private charitable foundation created by the late Elizabeth B. Noyce that supports charitable projects in Maine or that benefit Maine causes. Today, all of the real estate and buildings at Pineland  — the campus and three working farms — have been owned by the October Corporation, a nonprofit title-holding company of the Libra Foundation.

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Pineland Farms, Inc. is a stand-alone non-profit corporation that staffs and runs all farm and education programs at the farms surrounding the Pineland Campus with the mission to provide a productive and educational venue that enriches the community by demonstrating responsible farming techniques, offering educational opportunities and encouraging a healthy lifestyle through recreation.

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The farms on the property feature an equestrian center, dairy operation and creamery, gardens, and a variety of livestock including Holstein cows, sheep, chickens and goats. Tours and educational programs are offered at these facilities year round.

For more information, visit pinelandfarms.org or call the Pineland Welcome Center at 688-4539 or Outdoor Center at 688-6599.

Kendra Wheeler, organizer of the women's snowshoe and hiking Meetup group I met with.
Kendra Wheeler, organizer of the women’s snowshoe and hiking Meetup group I met with.

Personal note: I couldn’t even come close to exploring all that Pineland Farms has to offer when I first visited on Jan. 23, a cloudy day with a high temperature of 23 degrees Fahrenheit. A biting wind whipped over the snow-covered fields as I met the Maine Beginner Hiking and Snowshoeing Meetup for Women, an online group that plans outings throughout southern Maine. Despite the cold, more than 30 members of the group showed up for the group snowshoe that day, and I was tagging along to write a story about how Meetup.com can be a great tool for people who want to be active outdoors and meet new people in the process.

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Pineland Farms educator Kathryn Daly led us along the Muskrat Hollow Trail, and I did my best to be social while also shooting video and photos. The trek led us to a small  log cabin, a warming hut that had recently been constructed to replace a yurt on the property. There, a few women unstrapped their snowshoes with clumsy, frozen fingers so they could enter the hut and escape the cold for a few minutes. Meanwhile, Daly told us about the history of the property. Being a fan of ghost stories, one tidbit that stuck with me is that Pineland Farms is said to be home to one of the most haunted cemeteries in Maine.

After the snowshoe, I chatted with the folks running the Outdoor Center and learned that the Pineland trails are great in the summer for bicyclists looking for fairly easy, rolling terrain. The property’s disc golf course is also a big hit during that time.

My husband, Derek, and his mom, Geneva.
My husband, Derek, and his mom, Geneva.

I then met up with my husband and mother-in-law to go cross-country skiing, though we could only complete a short loop before the daylight faded and we were forced back to the parking lot. But before leaving, we made sure to wander the beautiful Pineland Market, where we purchased hot chocolates and molasses-ginger cookies (for present consumption), and dried kiwi and Maine-made lavender mead (for later).  

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...