Stroudwater Trail, part of Portland Trails’ extensive network, is a 3.3 mile one-way (6.6 mile out-and-back) path beginning at Rivers’ Edge Drive, off outer Congress Street, that primarily follows the slow, muddy, meandering Stroudwater River where Portland meets Westbrook, crosses Spring Street, and ends at Smiling Hill Farm. This trail is popular with trail runners and dog walkers. The full trail (see Portland Trails’ page) is unavailable from November 1 to April 1, as the area west from Portland’s Blueberry Road to Westbrook’s Cardinal Street is closed in the winter as a deeryard to provide a winter habitat for these animals.
Stroudwater Trail is an island of green in a fairly developed area of Maine, and the sounds and smells of industry and transit permeate much of the walk. The trail crosses underneath I-95, and is flown over by Jetport air traffic, but still maintains intervals of peace and quiet. On a late June day, we saw a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey vertical takeoff/landing plane doing test flights overhead.
The Rivers’ Edge Drive lot is very small, and parking in the surrounding neighborhood is unauthorized. Parking abounds on Hutchins Drive, but so do shifty characters waiting in idling cars, as this remote Portland spot is apparently a place frequented by men seeking brief, anonymous interludes with other men. Thankfully, this pursuit is likely harmless to other hikers and walkers. The trail itself is relatively easy and shaded, with switchbacks, stairs, and hills in spots, traveling through varied forest terrain, boardwalk bridges, and the grassy open areas created by power lines.
A sign along the river marks the future location of a pedestrian bridge across the Stroudwater. Birds and seasonal wildflowers abound, particularly by the banks of the river. Unfortunately, insects also flourish in the late spring, so wear appropriate clothing or repellent. While Stroudwater Trail is not sufficiently remote to separate oneself from the bustle of modern life, for those working nearby or stranded at the Jetport, this easy trail presents a good way to get outside for a lunch break or a flight delay.
Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is Maine’s second largest, checking in at 239 acres. The combination of green space habitat and (relative) solitude make it a popular birdwatching and walking area, located directly behind the University of New England (UNE) Portland Campus. The small ponds at the northwest edge of Evergreen are places to observe tadpoles, frogs, newts, turtles, snakes, large snapping turtles, and waterfowl throughout the warmer seasons. In addition to the paved, gravel, and dirt roads of the cemetery itself, Evergreen is traversed by Portland Trails’ extensive network, including the 10-mile Forest City Trail, which runs from the Presumpscot River to the Stroudwater.
With the temporary closure of schools and businesses, the uncertainty in the air, and the moratorium on group activities in many places, the universal mood seems to be a somber one, at best. But, with care, resolve, and education (try this article on social distancing), a more sanguine view can prevail. What is a healthy thing to do that requires relative isolation – six feet of separation with non-family members, and no direct contact with surfaces that might contain lingering viruses?
Hiking, in its many forms, needs no more cheerleading for its holistic wellness benefits. But getting outside for mental health has never been more important. Here in Portland, Maine, schools will be closed until at least the end of April, a stay-at-home order has been issued, and non-essential businesses are temporarily closing. These actions, and others, can all have degenerative ripple effects on time, and on physical and mental health, if we let them.
First, breathe. We were fortunate to be born in a country with the infrastructure and prosperity to get through this. Here in Maine, we are less-densely populated than most other places, surrounded by an embarrassment of natural riches in the form of the coast, lakes, and mountains.
Remember- these are close, and popular, and may be crowded. The Portland Press Herald also just published a list of wild lands for exploration during this strange time.
Again, check state and local guidelines on the trails or parks you are using. Some may be closed due to COVID-19, some may just be closed to protect trails during mud season. The best source of information is the maintainer of the trails, whether that be a government agency, a municipality, a land trust, or a non-profit.
The point is not some Instagram-worthy photo opportunity, it’s fresh air and time in nature, so don’t sweat the surroundings. Baxter Woods or Evergreen Cemetery are great places to walk. If you can’t make it way out onto remote trails, there are other outdoor options. Last weekend, dad and daughter took advantage of the sunny weather, using Portland Trails and the East Coast Greenway to safely walk ten-plus miles to Wainwright Fields in South Portland.
This is not meant to be a flippant article, but suggestions specific to getting outdoors in the Portland area. People are deeply affected by this pandemic. Post-hike, consider getting takeout or delivery from a local restaurant – Portland’s Old Port has an updated list of businesses where this is available, as does Portland Food Map. The best place to look for where to help is at your friends and neighbors, but donations of money or time to places like Preble Street or national charities like the Salvation Army or Meals on Wheels can help those less fortunate.
On a cold but sunny February day, we hiked Portland, Maine’s Fore River Sanctuary and Jewell Falls via the Forest City Trail and Railroad Loop from the Hillcrest Trailhead, an easy lollipop loop of about 1.2 miles (35 minutes). This preserve, maintained by Portland Trails, is 85 acres of nature inside Maine’s largest city, and contains a waterfall, as well as a lowland marsh area popular with bird watchers. Portland Trails has a digital map page with links to every type of map you would want for completing this hike, and any other in their network.
This winter weekend day, we did not see many birds, but many people enjoying the trail with their dogs. The trail was hard-packed snow, with icy sections, and Yaktrax, microspikes, or other traction devices would be advisable. We took a short loop, but the preserve has 5.6 miles of trails, so many other routes are possible.
It is a short walk from the Hillcrest trailhead to Jewell Falls, the star attraction of the preserve. Tactically, for those with small children, it may make more sense to use the Rowe Avenue or Starbird Road trailheads, and loop counterclockwise, so that Jewell Falls is the big payoff in the second half of the hike. Jewell Falls in winter is a white cascade of ice, snow, rock, water, and sound, and we picked our way down the stone steps next to the falls to watch and listen. The falls are named for Tom Jewell, a Portland Trails founder, whose family donated the land around the falls to Portland Trails.
The winter woods on the Forest City Trail were open and quiet, punctuated by the scampering of red squirrels. This icy path led down across the railroad tracks to the lowland marsh, where water carved its passage through the salty hummocks, a pleasant place to watch for wildlife.
Crossing back over the railroad tracks, we completed the clockwise loop, stopping briefly again by Jewell Falls to observe the wintry paths of water, before returning to the Hillcrest Street trailhead.