Length: 12,144 ft. • Difficulty: 1 (gravel)
Terrain: Wide gravel track, open forest, thick tree cover
At more than 2 miles long, West Trail is one of the longest trails in City Forest, rivaled only by its counterpart, East Trail.
This well-maintained and clearly marked trail begins at the Tripp Drive parking lot, runs parallel to the Tripp Drive access road and cuts across the arboretum while taking hikers and mountain bikers to the forest’s northern boundary.
For those of you who prefer to enter City Forest at the Kittredge Road gate, you can pick up West Trail after going over City Forest Hill and following the access road through the arboretum at the northern foot of the hill. West Trail intersects with the arboretum access road and leads visitors into a relatively densely wooded area of forest beyond an open stone wall.
For those of you who use the Tripp Drive gate, simply follow the West Trail sign. After about three-quarters of a mile the trail crosses Main Road at the picnic table before coming out at the arboretum. Continue straight ahead across the arboretum and you will see another sign denoting the trail at the stone wall.
Because it follows the forest’s western boundary, West Trail takes hikers and bikers into a relatively remote region of the forest, where chances are greater that you will see – or at least hear – some wildlife. But if you want to see wildlife, leave the mountain bike at home because noise from the bike will give animals plenty of time to hide.
West Trail winds its way left and right as it slowly ascends in elevation. Small, gradual valleys that dip 6 or 7 feet at most make the hike or ride easy. Along the way, you will descend and emerge into moderately thick woods until the trail runs parallel to Loop Road, visible on the right. From then on, the trail features dense, largely untouched woods on the left and a thinned-out forest on the right.
If you’re not up to walking the trail at once with no breaks, there are benches crafted from the forest’s trees that you can rest on along the way at well-spaced intervals.
To get a taste for what it’s like in the more wild areas of the forest, you might want to explore some of the charted and uncharted trails that lead from West Trail to the edge of the marsh and some of the smaller wetlands.
The first of these side trails is Quinn Trail, which begins on the left a little bit after the stone wall. Quinn Trail leads to the edge of the Penjajawoc Marsh, giving you a good close-up view of the wetland that is home to hundreds of bird species, some of which are rare to Maine.
Unless you have a good sense of direction, have a sense of intrigue and a few hours to wander aimlessly, you would do well to resist the urge to follow the uncharted mountain bike trails that head north from the end of Quinn Trail.
Another charted trail that leads off West is Grouse Trail. Grouse Trail isn’t much farther down West than Quinn. Although the sign for Grouse isn’t up, you can recognize it by the yellow paint on either side of the trail as it heads straight to the east, to the right. I will cover Grouse Trail in the future. For now, you can pick up the uncharted section of Grouse Trail, which leads west and to the edge of the Penjajawoc Marsh.
In some places along West Trail you will notice an unmarked but well-worn trail that runs parallel to West on the left. This is the original West Trail, before the city of Bangor decided to haul dirt in to make the trail system more accessible. (After protests from City Forest regulars a few years ago, the city agreed not to add dirt to secondary trails, such as Grouse Trail.) If you want to give yourself a little more of a workout, you can hike or bike on the original trail if you would like to maneuver around tree roots, rocks and trees.
Not long after West Trail intersects with Grouse Trail, you will encounter a moderately thick colony of ferns where the city has thinned a few trees. This garden-like stretch of the trail is one of the more tranquil spots in the forest.
A little farther along, you will encounter a large clearing and an access road on the right that runs parallel to West Trail. This access road is Loop Road. Be on the lookout for a hawk that has been seen in the area a couple of times. There will be no mistaking the hawk for a crow because its wingspan and body are far longer than a crow’s. And while the crow likes to scrounge for food on the ground, the hawk likes to remain high. It flies aggressively with sharp turns and steep dives. When it flies from a tree, it drops into a short free-fall with its powerful wings spread before flapping them as it thrusts its way through the air.
In this same area of the trail and on the left, Woodchuck Trail splits off West and over a small hill the city has cleared. If you follow this trail to the end, you will end up on the old Veazie Railroad bed.
Back on West Trail, the trail follows the contours of the slight hill that ascends to the northern boundary of the forest. If you stop and pause long enough in this area – and if there are no other hikers or bikers around – you may hear animals in the nearby bog, especially late in the day. Unfortunately, this summer’s hot weather has kept most of the forest’s larger animals deep within the more comfortable shade that the thick brush away from the trails provide.
If you take West Trail about an hour before the sun sets, you may be in for a treat if the clouds are just right. The darkening shadows of the forest combine to form a natural frame around the golden sunset as hues of pink, purple, orange, yellow and red streak through, over and under wispy clouds on the fading horizon. The silence of the surrounding forest, save for the excited chatter of a squirrel, swan song of a bird and a refreshing breeze through the trees make the setting all the more special.
© 2001-09, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.
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