Difficulty: Easy-moderate. All of the hiking trails in the Branch Lake Public Forest are fairly short, well-marked and travel over relatively flat land. However, exposed tree roots and rocks make footing tricky in some spots.
How to get there: From the corner of Main Street and Route 1A in downtown Ellsworth, drive approximately 6.5 miles north on Route 1A and turn left onto the access road to the Branch Lake Public Forest, which is marked with a large brown sign. Drive about 1 mile to a gate. Park to the left in a small parking area and walk around the gate to access the tote road, which leads to all of the hiking trails in the forest. A map on a kiosk near the gate clearly shows the location of each trail. Walking down the tote road, the Marsh Trail will be the first trail you come to, on the left. The Brookside Trail is farther down the tote road, about 0.5 mile from the gate on the right (past the trailheads to the Marsh Trail and Pine Trail).
Information: The Brookside Trail and Marsh Trail are two of four hiking trails currently located in the Branch Lake Public Forest in Ellsworth, which is open for hiking, dog walking, snowshoeing, and in the right conditions, cross-country skiing.
The city of Ellsworth acquired the Branch Lake Public Forest from the Mary C. Fenn Trust in 2010 as a part of a $2.4 million conservation initiative that protects nearly 1,200 acres of Branch Lake Watershed, according to a 2012 BDN story.
In collaboration with the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, the city planned an network of hiking trails. And in 2011 and 2012, a crew of trailblazers from the Maine Conservation Corps constructed about 2.6 miles of these trails.
At the parking area, a trail map on display by the gate shows the network’s four blazed trails — Marsh Trail, Pine Trail, Lake Loop Trail and Brookside Trail — as well as the routes of future trails. As you walk down the tote road, you’ll notice that maps are posted at the beginning of each of the four trails; and on each map is a star marking your location.
Lake Loop Trail and Brookside Trail (loop trail) both lead to the shore of Branch Lake. Pine Trail and Marsh Trail are a bit shorter and do not lead to the lake.
On Oct. 10, I walked Marsh Trail and Brookside Trail for the first time. I expected the Marsh Trail to lead to a view of the marsh that’s shown on the trail map, but it didn’t. However, I noticed several blue markers at the end of the Marsh Trail where a new trail is being mapped out, and according to the trail map, that trail will go right across the marsh (possibly by bog bridge?).
The Brookside Trail was the more traveled of the two and easier to follow. Several wooden bridges make the trail more interesting, and my dog Oreo especially enjoyed where the trail met up with a brook, where he splashed around a bit.
Rules of the forest are posted at the gate near the parking area. Do not harm trees, plants or other property; consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited; hunting, fishing and trapping are permitted (no tree stands or bear baiting); motorized vehicles are prohibited; bicycles are prohibited; and fires and overnight camping are prohibited. While not stated on the sign, dogs are permitted on the trails.
For information or to report a problem, call 667-2563. For a map of the trail network, visit ellsworthmaine.gov/pdfs/planning/maps/City_Forest_trails.pdf.
Personal note: Branch Lake Public Forest is one of several places I like to walk my black-and-white pit bull Oreo when I don’t have time to go on a big adventure. It’s fairly close to the Bangor area, where I live, and it’s never very crowded (from what I’ve seen).
We’ve visited the forest during every season — during snowstorms and when the raspberries were ripe. During one visit, we were attacked by deer flies; during another, I got carried away photographing damselflies and butterflies. And during our most recent trip to the trail network, on Oct. 10, the forest was filled with color — bright red and orange maple leaves and yellow birch leaves littered the ground and crunched beneath our steps.