February 19, 2020
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Marsh Island Community Trails in Old Town are prized by area mountain bikers

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on what trails you explore. The network consists of wide, smooth double-track trails where you can bike side by side, as well as narrow single-track trails that are more challenging and feature obstacles such as tree roots and rocks.

How to get there: There are several trailheads for the north portion of the Marsh Island Community Trails. One parking area is across the street from La Bree’s Bakery at 169 Gilman Ave. in Old Town. Two parking areas are on Stillwater Avenue: one at the Old Town Elementary School at 585 Stillwater Ave., and one at 717 Stillwater Ave., which is also the start of one of the University of Maine’s paved bicycle paths. And there are also two parking lots on College Ave., one across from Sewall Road and one at the start of Logan Road.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
A sign marks a trailhead on College Avenue for the Marsh Island Community Trails in the Dwight B. Demeritt Forest in Old Town.

To plan a route and decide where you want to access this trail network, I suggest viewing the trail map, which is available on the New England Mountain Biking Association website, pr.nemba.org.

Information: A vast network of trails in Old Town and Orono are used for mountain biking, walking, running and cross-country skiing. Collectively, they’re known as the Marsh Island Community Trails.

On trail maps provided by the Penobscot Region New England Mountain Biking Association, the trails are broken up into two sections — north and south — divided by Stillwater Avenue in Old Town.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Many of the trails in the Marsh Island Community Trails network are marked with signs, and trail maps are posted at major trail intersections. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

The majority of the trails are in the 1,478-acre Dwight B. Demeritt Forest, which is owned by the University of Maine and used for education, demonstrations and research. However, some of the trails lie outside this forest on private land. Therefore, it’s important to remain on trail and respect the privacy of those living nearby.

For this column, I’m focusing on the north half of the trail system, which is in Old Town. There the trails are a mixture of what mountain bikers call double-track and single-track trails. Double-track trails are wide enough for two people to bike side by side, while single-track trails are designed to be approximately the width of a bike.

[Related: Rumford’s outdoors offerings expand with town’s first mountain biking trails]

I was unable to map out the total mileage of the trails, but Jeremy Porter’s description on the NEMBA website gives a good idea of the size of the entire network (Old Town and Orono), stating that you can ride a short 3-mile loop or a long 25- to 30-mile loop. He also estimates that the network contains about 40 miles of single-track trails.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Wooden benches are located throughout the Dwight B. Demeritt in Old Town, which is home to the Marsh Island Community Trails. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)

This trail network can be confusing to navigate. To help, trail maps have been posted at major intersections and many of the trails are marked with signs. Names of trails on the north side of the network include Blue, Black, Red, White and Yellow trails, as well as more creative names such as Renegade, Sawmill, Pine Thicket and Underwear trails. These trails are connected by private gravel roads that are closed to vehicle traffic: Seawall, Spring and Logan roads.

For more information, visit pr.nemba.org, email prnemba@gmail.com or contact the local Rose Bike shop, which organizes group rides in the area, at 207-866-3525.

Personal note: Fall is the perfect time for mountain biking in Maine. The foliage is beautiful. The bugs are gone. The weather is comfortably cool, and the trails are usually free of mud. So on Sept. 22, my husband Derek and I tossed our bikes in the back of his truck and headed to Old Town.

A novice mountain biker, I tend to lean on Derek’s expertise when we go for a ride, though he insists that I pump up my own tires and adjust my own seat.

Mountain biking was one of Derek’s favorite pastimes while attending UMaine, so he knows the trails around the university quite well. Still, he makes good use of the maps posted at intersections. The trails are continually being improved and expanded.

We started our ride on Sewall Road, which is gated off from vehicle traffic and travels through the heart of Demeritt Forest. Trees towered above us as we pedaled easily down the smooth path. There we passed a few walkers, including a woman walking two black Labs. The dogs had found a pool nearby and were dripping wet when they approached to sniff our legs.

Jumping off the wide Sewall Road, we navigated the narrower Red Trail and Blue Trail to Spring Road, which ended at Gilman Falls Avenue. From there, we hit paved road to reach a small network of trails near the banks of the Penobscot River.

In all, we covered about 10 miles. Returning to Demeritt Forest, we biked the Black Trail and another section of the Red Trail before backtracking to the parking area.

The ride was beautiful but not without its frustrations. The mosquitoes were surprisingly abundant and hungry, which is unusual for so late in the year. The battery of my new GoPro camera (which mounts on my helmet) died halfway through our ride, forcing us to film some sections with my handheld camera. This slowed us down and resulted in more bug bites.

But on a more positive note, we did have an exciting wildlife sighting. Near the end of our ride, while biking along the narrow Red Trail, I was nearly knocked off my seat by a large hawk. In a thick forest of evergreens, the hawk had been using the trail to fly low to the ground. When it saw me, it lifted just in time to avoid a collision, then disappeared into the trees.

For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.


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