Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The 3-mile trail is relatively flat, straight and wide. The most difficult part of the trail is a short section between the old railway bed and the trailhead on Old Route 1.
How to get there: Most people access the trial by the East Entrance off Point Road, across from Hancock Town Hall (because this trailhead is less than a mile from Old Pond, the most scenic area of the trail). To get there from the intersection of Route 1 and Route 182 in Hancock, drive 3.2 miles east on Route 1 and turn right onto Point Road. Drive less than 0.1 mile to the parking area on the right.
The West Entrance is off Old Route 1. To get there from the intersection of Route 1 and Route 182 in Hancock, drive 0.7 mile east on Route 1 and turn right onto Old Route 1. Drive 0.4 mile to the parking area on the right.
Information: The Old Pond Railway Trail follows nearly 3 miles of the former Maine Shoreline Railway, which was last traveled by train in the 1980s. A century ago, the railway was used to transport tourists from Brewer to Hancock’s McNeil Point Ferry Landing on their way to the famous Bar Harbor.
The wide footpath, which officially opened to the public on July 25, 2012, travels along the abandoned railway’s partially buried rails and moss-covered railway ties from Hancock Town Hall to Old Pond and on to Kilkenny Cove, passing through a beautiful mixed forest.
An ideal place for walkers (and in the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers), the trail also serves local wormers and clammers, who use it to access flats that form around Carrying Place Inlet, Old Pond and Hills Cove.
The public has access to this trail thanks to three land conservation trusts, the town of Hancock, state organizations and local volunteers.
It all started in 2008, when nearly 3 miles of the old railway was acquired by the Crabtree Neck Land Trust, with the help of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
A year later, three local Eagle Scouts constructed the parking area at the East Entrance, cleared the first half mile of the trail, and repaired the trestle bridge at Old Pond, making it safe for visitors to cross. The bridge offers some of the most spectacular scenery of the hike.
Old Pond is a body of saltwater near the Carrying Place Inlet, which links Youngs Bay to Taunton Bay on the coast of Hancock. It’s a great place for bird watching and is also frequented by seals, according to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Keep an eye out for bald eagles, ducks, geese, gulls, and in the fall, migrating warblers.
The trail continued to develop in 2010, when the Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased a waterfront property at the western end of the trail with the assistance of Crabtree Neck Land Trust and a contribution from Land for Maine’s Future. The trust then transferred the property to Frenchman Bay Conservancy, who built the West Entrance parking area and made trail improvements that completed the 3-mile trail.
Since the old rail bed doesn’t lead directly to the West Entrance on Old Route 1, the Frenchman Bay Conservancy had to do a bit of trail blazing. To reach the West Entrance, the trail veers right, leaving the old rail bed, and climbs over a tangle of exposed roots. This short section of trail is narrower and travels over a number of bog bridges. Be sure to follow the blue flagging tape tied to trees as the trail weaves through an enchanting cedar forest.
Trail guidelines are posted at both trailheads. Dogs are permitted but must be kept under control. Fires, camping and ATVs are not permitted. The trail travels near private property; respect the privacy of neighbors, stay on trail and leave no trace.
Personal note: Saturday, April 12, was sunny and warm, and boy did we deserve it after such a brutally long winter. Stubborn patches of snow and ice still covered the ground in shaded spots in the woods, but the warm breeze and budding trees told us that winter had given up the fight.
My dog Oreo stuck his head out the window as we rode down Route 1A toward the coast, his wet nose twitching as he took in the different spring scents. And as always, as we approached our hiking destination, he began pacing the back seat. Somehow, he always knows when we near the trailhead.
Derek, Oreo and I began our hike at the East Entrance and walked about 0.5 mile to Old Pond, where the trail was sandwiched by salty water at nearly high tide. Seaweed rippled in the current that swept under the bridge. Granite blocks lined the shore on boths sides. And the trail continued on a narrow bridge of land until it met a bridge with solid metal rails and wide planking. There we set our packs down to bask in the sun.
Four Canada geese eyed us from a distance, then got back to fishing, submerging their long necks and letting out a honk now and again. Black and white ducks of some variety, too far off for me to identify, bobbed on the waves. And a group of gulls that had been lounging in the grass nearby suddenly launched into the blue sky. As they wheeled overhead, Derek and I waited to be splattered with bird droppings that fortunately never came.
I could have sat on that bridge all day, enjoying the unusually warm weather in the beautiful, secluded area. But we had the remaining 2.5 miles of trail to explore.
The rest of the trail turned out to be worth the effort. It traveled through a variety of forestland with rock formations and tall trees that appeared beautiful even during the wake of a harsh winter, with foliage yet to burst forth. Since the trail travels over a railway, it’s relatively straight, so that even in the midst of a dense forest, you can see far ahead of you on the trail. And aside from the rotting rail ties, the trail was smooth and easy to navigate.
One trouble we did run into was the clear presence of porcupines, which we always worry about when we have Oreo with us. The trail owners do not require you to
have your dog leashed, and so sometimes (for example, near the water) we let Oreo run free. But as soon as I noticed sections of trees stripped bare of bark, I decided to keep his leash on at all times. Not long after that, I discovered what I believe was a porcupine den, surrounded by peanut-shaped droppings, by the edge of a brook.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s 1-Minute Hikes, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @1minhikegirl.