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.
On a sunny April day, we hiked through the cemetery to Evergreen Woods, using the Evergreen Loop Trail to make a circuit. Trail maps and information are available from Portland Trails. The cemetery is open daily from 7am to dusk (if you park inside the cemetery, check the hours, as the gates typically close around 6:30 or so, and your vehicle could be locked in). We parked on Stevens Avenue, and used the Baxter Trail by the chapel to access the Loop Trail from its entrance by the duck ponds. Access is also available at the end of Woodvale Street, and from the Brentwood neighborhood. Map kiosks are available at each trail intersection, but they appear new enough that they do not include the critical “You are here” dot, so pay attention to your route.
The trails, however, are well-marked, well-maintained, and provide a gateway to forests and ledges that are surprisingly wild, within the boundaries of the city of Portland. The Ledges Trail, in particular, is popular with mountain bikers seeking some rocks and elevation. On-leash dogs are also welcome (and plentiful) in this area. We enjoyed seeing new spring buds, including blossoming trout lilies. Robins, jays, and chickadees called and flew through the woods, and we even saw a large hawk scouring the cemetery for the many squirrels and chipmunks who make it their home. The Evergreen Cemetery trails are a perfect afternoon or lunch break hike for those in the Portland area, looking for green space.
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.