Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail is about 2.5 miles long and travels through forested land beside the Messalonskee Stream.
How to get there: The Messalonskee Stream Trail has two trailheads and a small parking area at each.
The south trailhead is off Kennedy Memorial Drive, across Messalonskee Stream from Oakland Town Office. A green trail sign marks the trailhead and the small fenced-in parking area, which may be closed during the winter.
The north trailhead is off Rice Rips Road beside Messalonskee Stream. To get there from Route 23, turn right onto Rice Rips Road and cross the stream, then turn left into the small parking area, which is just before the train tracks. The trail starts on the opposite side of Rice Rips Road. Walk around the gate and follow the penstock (large water pipe) leading to Rice Rips Dam. Take the stairs up and over the penstock to reach the trail.
Information: The 2.5-mile Messalonskee Stream Trail opened in 2007 and is named after the stream it follows. Spanning between Route 23 and Rice Rips Road in Oakland, the trail travels through varied, hilly forestland.
Maintained by the town of Oakland, the trail was planned in 2005, constructed by the Maine Conservation Corps in 2006, and opened on National Trails Day in 2007. In addition to the town, several organizations and businesses collaborated to make open this trail to the public, including Kennebec Messalonskee trails, the Town of Oakland, FPL Energy, Synergics Energy Services, Maine Recreational Trail Program and Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. Other supporters are Maine Renewables, Florida Power and Light, Central Maine Power, Maine Department of Conservation and LLBean.
When I hiked the trail with hiking buddies Derek Runnells and Oreo (our dog) on March 2, 2014, we started at the south trailhead off Route 23 (near the town office). The parking area was covered in hard-packed snow that day, but according to mainetrailfinder.com, it is on the foundations of the old axe factory that gave Oakland its nickname, “Axe Capital of the World.”
At the far end of the parking lot is a kiosk with a trail map and some visitor guidelines. For example, the trail is open from sunup to sundown. Dogs are allowed but must be kept under control, and visitors must clean up after their dogs. Smoking and fires are prohibited, as well as alcohol and drugs. Just past the kiosk, the trail starts at an opening in a chain link fence. On the fence is a pet waste bag dispenser and a sign that reads “Messalonskee Stream Trail.”
Past the fence, you’ll walk across an open area toward the forest. To your left will be a fiberglass penstock pipe, which is taking water to a castle-like structure that was one of Central Maine Power’s first hydropower stations. You’ll get a good look of the stone building before the trail heads into a beautiful evergreen forest. As the trail travels through a beautiful forest, you’ll be able to see the Messalonskee Stream through the trees to your left. The trail is uphill from the stream. Be careful, as the slope is steep in some areas. Trail blazes (paint on trees) mark the way. First, the blazes are red painted over white; Then, they become blue painted over white. Short wooden posts mark every 0.25 mile, and you’ll cross several wide footbridges spanning brooks that feed into Messalonskee Stream.
Just a short way down the trail, you’ll be able to see the buildings of the old Cascade Woolen Mill through the trees to your left. The mill was constructed in 1882 by Seth M. Milliken, John Ayer and D A Campbell, according to “Some Tidbits of Oakland History” by Michael J. Denis. Milliken was one of the founders of the Deering-Milliken textile corporation, one of the largest in the U.S. For many years, the mill was a primary employer and manufacturing enterprise in Oakland. In the first years of production, the mill manufactured woolen fabric for women’s clothing and “casimere,” a twilled men’s suit fabric. Government contracts during World War II called for wool-cotton blends for lining military jackets. And in the 1990s, the mill produced upholstery, sportswear and hunting outerwear. The mill closed in 1997, and in the winter of 2010, it was destroyed in a fire.
While much of the forest is evergreen — including an impressive stand of tall hemlocks — you’ll notice a wide variety of trees scattered throughout, including grey birch, paper birch, yellow birch and beech.
About halfway through the hike, the trail descends to the edge of Messalonskee Stream, where the evergreens give way to a stand of deciduous trees. A picnic table is located near the water, where there’s a nice view. The trail continues along the edge of the stream for a short distance, then heads back into an evergreen forest and comes out at powerlines at about the 2 mile mark.
At the powerlines, the blazes marking the trail disappear. A green trail sign will direct you to turn left. This part of the trail is popular for mountain biking and running; and in the winter, you’ll be sharing this section of the trail with snowmobilers. Just continue walking along the powerlines (a little less than 0.5 mile), passing over a small rickety bridge (with a yellow caution sign before it) and on to the dam access road, where a green trail sign will direct you to turn left.
Walk down the dam access road to the Rice Rips Dam, where you’ll cross over the old penstock (water pipe) on a series of metal stairs and walkways. Once on the other side of the penstock, follow it up to Rice Rips Road, the northern end of the trail. Across the road is a small parking area for the north trailhead.
To learn more, visit the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails website at www.kmtrail.org. For a trail map, visit www.kmtrails.org/pdfs/Messalonskee-Stream-Trail-Map.pdf.
Personal note: During my hike of the trail on March 2, 2014, with Derek and our dog Oreo, we noticed a number of woodpecker holes in the evergreen forest, as well as some interesting mushrooms. Each time we got a good view of Messalonskee Stream, I looked for ducks to photograph — to no avail.
The snow on the trail was packed down so much that it was almost as slippery as ice. It was slow going, but it made for excellent sliding. And the dam access road, coated with ice, was another opportunity for fun — ice skating, sans skates. While we didn’t fall during this silly activity, I did fall just a little while later. I was crossing over Rice Rips Dam on a metal walkway when I realized that Oreo was lagging behind. I looked down to notice he was walking gingerly over the metal grating. I imagine it was slipping in between his toes, so I picked him up and carried him across and down the stairs on the other side. At the foot of the stairs, I stepped onto the snow-covered ground and slipped. Of course, Derek was right behind me and caught it all on camera. While the fall was demonstrative of my general clumsiness, to my credit, I fell on my side and made sure not to squish Oreo. Who jumped out of my arms, tail wagging (dog laughter?).
While dog leashes aren’t a “must” on this trail, we kept Oreo on a long leash (a long section of rope) so that we had control of him but he could still run up and down the trail. We were also sure to bring medical tape and Bag Balm, just in case the ice cut his paws, which we checked throughout the hike.
It was a quiet day in the forest. A layer of white clouds blocked out much of the sunlight. Temperatures hovered in the 20s.
Chickadees talked to us in the stand of hemlocks, and Derek spotted a noisy crow that seemed to be following us for a while. On the ground, I found a pretty feather — slightly iridescent with a stripe of tan at the tip — but I don’t know what bird it had belonged to. Along the dam access road, we found what I believe were wild turkey prints in the light dusting of snow that covered the icy road. But the most wildlife we saw was right at the end, when we returned to the town office parking lot to see perhaps a dozen resident mallard ducks (the males with shiny green heads and white chests and the females looking entirely different, with light brown bodies and a beautiful blue section on their wings). They were feasting on birdseed someone had scattered nearby.