Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network is made up of about 4.5 miles of trails that travel over a fairly even terrain (a few small hills). Watch the ground for exposed roots and rocks.
How to get there: There are several access points to the Piney Knoll Conservation Area: at the end of Penobscot Street, at the end of Marsh Lane, at the end of Colburn Drive and on Hillside Road, where the road bends to the left toward Treat Falls House.
To reach the Penobscot Street trailhead, start at the center of town in Orono and drive on Route 2 (Main Street) north. Cross the bridge spanning Stillwater River and take the first right onto North Main Street. At a stop sign, bear right to stay on North Main Street. At the end of North Main Street, turn left onto Penobscot Street. Drive to the end of Penobscot Street, which turns to gravel. Park at the end of the street, well out of the way of nearby driveways. A number of Orono Land Trust signs mark the trailhead.
Information: Piney Knoll Conservation Area is a 57-acre parcel along the Penobscot River in Orono that features about 4.5 miles of intersecting trails. The trail network is open to the public year round, and it’s a popular place for walking, snowshoeing, mountain biking, geocaching and cross-country skiing.
A knoll covered with tall white pines is one of the most distinctive features on the property, hence the name Piney Knoll. Logs are placed under the shade of the pines for visitors to sit and enjoy the beautiful spot.
The land is owned and managed by the Orono Land Trust, which purchased the property in 1991 from Diamond Occidental Forest, Inc., with money donated by Bangor Hydro as part of a mitigation plan for the Basin Mills Dam proposal, which was later abandoned.
The Orono Land Trust has the mission “to protect, manage and preserve portions of the natural environment in Orono and surrounding communities for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations,” according to the trust website.
Founded in 1986, the trust now formally stewards 974 acres of land. They own 314 of those acres; the remaining 657 acres are easements. The properties are located throughout Orono and Veazie, as well as one property in Old Town.
Historically, the Piney Knoll Conservation Area is the former site of a Native American settlement, according to the Orono Land Trust. It is also where a ferry line used to cross the Penobscot River to Bradley. Along the Penobscot River Trail, the trust has marked where the ferry used to land. A steel cable spanning the river remains as evidence.
Visitors should keep an eye out for resident birds such as eagles, ducks and redpolls, as well as wildlife including white-tailed deer, red foxes, snowshoe hares, coyotes and wild turkeys. Peter’s Field, located between Vinal Stream and the railroad tracks, is mowed annually to preserve bird habitat.
Some of the trails cross the railroad tracks, which are active. Look both ways!
If the 4.5-mile trail network isn’t enough to keep you occupied, it connects to the University of Maine trail system; just follow signs for Trail #11.
The trail is off limits to motorized vehicles. Dog are permitted but need to be under control of their owners. The land trust asks that visitors stay on marked trails and leave the area the way they found it. Keep in mind that some of the Piney Knoll trails cross private property with the permission of the landowner.
Within the boundaries of the conservation area, the trust allows bow hunting of white-tailed deer during expanded archery season, Sept. 7 – Dec. 14, but hunters must obtain a permit from Orono Land Trust by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information, including a trail map, visit oronolandtrust.org. For answers to specific questions, call the trust president, Jim Hinds, at 866-3854 or email him at email@example.com.
Personal note: After some strangely warm weather, the typical cold wind of November swept in on Sunday and reminded me that winter is indeed coming. Hiking buddy Derek and I bundled up in winter hats and mittens for the first time this season before entering the Piney Knoll trail network with our dog Oreo in tow. In fact, it was so cold (in the 30s and low 40s), that I dressed Oreo in one of his new fleece dog jackets from Bangor-based Dogn’i.
Though I’d never been to the trail network before, Derek had explored the trails many times on his mountain bike, and he says they’re great for that sort of thing, especially since they’re connected to the university trails. On foot, however, the 4.5 miles of trails in the Piney Knoll network was enough to keep us occupied for a couple hours.
There are a few things I’ll remember about this hike. By the river, we came across the picturesque sight of a swing hanging from a tree that reached out over the Penobscot. It hung over the water, near a spot where we spooked a group of ducks.
Also, when the trail traveled through a few small fields, I’ll remember an abundance of milkweed, releasing their seeds to the wind, and burdocks, which Derek had the audacity to throw onto my jacket.
On this hike, Oreo discovered the fun of jumping and catching the tops of cattails with his mouth. It was pretty comical, but after he jumped on two, we ushered him along, realizing our dog’s antics didn’t exactly adhere to Leave No Trace ethics, as funny as it was.