BELFAST, Maine — Belfast Water District has closed the Little River Trail, after a swimmer hurt herself there on Monday afternoon while jumping off a rope swing into a popular swimming hole.
When the trail reopens — perhaps as soon as the end of the week — a half-dozen or so tall white pines that have branches extending over the Little River will have been cut down.
“It’s nothing that the district wants to do,” Keith Pooler, longtime superintendent of the water district, said Wednesday. “But if somebody was to lose their life, I would never be able to live with myself.”
Pooler said the young woman who fell there suffered a serious laceration to her leg. Emergency responders carried her off the trail, he said, adding that he didn’t know much more about the incident or her condition. It came as something of a last straw for officials from the Belfast Water District, which owns much of the land that the trail crosses.
No matter how many times water district crew members remove the rope swing, Pooler said, people looking for the thrill of a splash into cool water on a hot summer day can’t seem to resist that part of the trail, which is shaded by tall white pines towering over a deep hole in the river.
“The district has taken down the rope swing many times,” he said. “The rope continues to be put up.”
Pooler informed city officials and the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, which maintains the trail, that the district would close the trail until the trees have been cleared, while they also look “into possible solutions to eliminate the possibility of the rope being put up again.”
Ernie Cooper, president of Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, said that his group is also concerned about safety on the trail, and that it also wants to cooperatively work with the Water District.
“As a conservation organization, we hate to see trees in wooded areas taken down,” he said. “But we certainly understand why the water district wants to do this. We’re very conscious of safety.”
But Austin Bergstrom, 23, who grew up in Belfast, described jumping off the rope swing as a rite of passage for local youth.
“The rope swing is great for a really hot day,” he said, acknowledging that it can be dangerous. “If you do fall off, you can hurt yourself. It’s quite high. If you get good momentum and run off the hill, it’s a 15- to 20-foot drop.”
He said he understands if water district officials needed to cut down branches to make it more difficult to hang a swing. But he was sad to hear that some of the trees will come down.
“They just go up in these huge, grand towers. They just overshadow everything and demand attention, in a way. Sometimes nature can do that — put you in awe,” he said. “Those old, grand pine trees that used to be all over the place. That’s what the forest in Maine was: these huge, ancient pine trees. Cutting down all the trees — that’s overkill.”