Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The trail network is made up of about 1.5 miles of wide, well-marked trails. Footing can be tricky in areas due to puddles and uneven, rocky terrain.
How to get there: Starting at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Main Street (Route 2) in downtown Orono, drive south toward Veazie on Main Street for 0.7 mile and turn right onto a road called Maplewood, near the Big Apple. In about 300 feet, turn right onto a road called Cedarwood, and after about 150 feet, turn left onto Mainewood Avenue. Drive 0.3 miles to the end of Mainewood Avenue to the small parking area in front of the park kiosk. The trail starts to the right of the kiosk, past a small clearing.
Information: Ben Sklar Wilderness Park was donated to the Town of Orono in August of 1985 by David Sklar in memory of his father. People in the area often refer to the 47-acre parcel simply as Sklar Park.
“I don’t want any building or development on the land,” Sklar said in a BDN story published on May 21, 1985, about the town council accepting the park in a 5-2 vote. “It’s a very sentimental thing that I’m doing.”
Today, the park is managed by the Orono Land Trust and the Town of Orono and contains about 1.5 miles of blazed trails for hiking, dog walking, skiing, horseback riding and biking. ATVs are prohibited.
Key features of the property is Johnny Mack Brook, which the trail crosses over on a wide bridge built by local Boy Scouts, and a meadow, which is managed for wildlife habitat, according to the Orono Land Trust.
If you want to walk more than the 1.5 miles of trails in Sklar Park, three trails lead out of the park to public trails on privately owned land. On the west end of the park, two trails lead to a water tower, the Boy Scout office and the nature trail of Dirigo Pines retirement community. On the east end of the park, a trail leads to land owned by Orono High School, crosses Johnny Mack Brook and connects to the trails of Rampe Conservation Easement and Pearce Conservation Easement. These trails visit Long Pond and Frog Pond.
For a map of the Sklar Park trail network and surrounding trails, visit oronolandtrust.org.
Personal note: Snow was falling on the morning of Dec. 18 when I pulled up to the small snowbank at the end of Mainewood Avenue. I chose that day for my weekly hike for its particularly Christmassy weather. As usual, my dog, Oreo, joined me.
A thin layer of fresh snow covered the ground and clung to the trees, occasionally raining down on us as we followed the blue-blazed trail through the quiet woods. All that could be heard were chickadees, squirrels and the rushing water of Johnny Mack Brook.
Our route led us to the brook twice, and both times, we lingered on the snowy shore and watched the water tumble and churn. Oreo wanted to go swimming, of course, but I reined him in as soon as I realized his intent. I didn’t need him shivering in a sopping wet coat halfway through our outing.
Water filled the trail at the far end of our loop hike, which made things a bit frustrating as I picked my way around puddles and Oreo splashed through them without a care. It’s been raining a lot these past weeks, so the obstacle was no big surprise. Waterproof boots are important for any person hoping to enjoy the Maine outdoors year-round.
All-in-all, Sklar Park is a nice little trail network for people and dogs to enjoy year round. The wide trails are good for wildlife watching, and a number of scenic spots along the brook would be great for a picnic. It’s also nice that the trail network is connected to other public trails, so if you want to be out there longer, you can. Just remember to carry a map and perhaps a GPS to stay oriented.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s 1-Minute Hikes, visit her blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl.
More photos from the walk: