Difficulty: Easy. Together, the trails in the network equal about 3 miles. Most of the trails travel over fairly even forest floor and are well defined, signed and marked. The network also includes a 0.25-mile gravel walkway designed to be wheelchair accessible. The trails travel slightly downhill as they lead away from the school.
How to get there: The Holden Community Learning Nature Trails are behind the Holden Elementary School at 590 Main Road in Holden. To access the trails, turn onto the school driveway and continue straight to the back to park near a sign that reads “Nature Trail Parking.” A kiosk marks the beginning of the hiking trails.
To reach the wheelchair-accessible trail, enter the school driveway, then turn left. Travel around the left side of the school and you’ll see the gravel trail to the left of the playground. This wider trail crosses the lawn and heads into the woods. Parking spots are located at the beginning of the trail.
Information: The Holden Community Learning Nature Trails is a network of intersecting footpaths in the forest behind Holden Elementary School. Open to the public for free, these trails total about 3 miles in length, according to the Holden town website, and are maintained by the Holden Conservation Commission.
A green kiosk, which includes a guest book and trail maps, is located at the beginning of the trail network on a lawn beside the school playground and gardens. The kiosk was designed and constructed by Kyle McGuan from Boy Scout Troop 1, with help from Dave McGuan, Barbara McGaun, Sue Quirk, Victor Fergola and Thomas McGuan.
Grants for kiosks, displays, signs and benches for this trail network were awarded by the U.S. Forest Service, Project Canopy and International Paper Company.
Ten interpretive panels on aspects of nature are located throughout the trail network. These colorful, detailed educational displays include one on Maine birds and another on vernal pools. Some displays may be missing during winter months.
The trails are appropriate for hiking, wildlife watching and snowshoeing and are open to dogs on leash. Each trail has a different name — Maine Trail, Deer Trail, Bobcat Trail, Washburn Trail and Fox Trail — and are marked with trail signs at trail intersections. The trails are not groomed for cross-country skiing.
The nature trails connect to the neighboring Red Barn Campground, which now is in partnership with the Holden Conservation Commission. A series of trails behind the campground are also open for the public to explore.
To learn more, visit the Holden Town website at holdenmaine.com or call the town office at 843-5151.
Personal note: After participating in the U.S. National Toboggan Championships in Camden on Saturday, my boyfriend Derek and I were toast. We fell asleep at 9:30 that night and slept soundly. Something about standing outside in the cold for hours, then hurtling down a hill on a sled at 40 mph, wipes a person out.
So on Sunday, we decided to stick close to home and go on a short snowshoe with our dog Oreo, who had been stuck indoors all Saturday and was full of unbridled energy. The Holden Community Nature Trails, just a few minutes from our house in Brewer, seemed the perfect choice.
The one thing that stood out to me about this trail network was the beauty of the mature forest it traveled through. Old trees towered overhead, their trunks dusted with snow. Evergreens, blanketed with white, were bending under the weight of recent snowfalls. Ice beaded on branches. It was a magical snowscape.
Unfortunately, with the temperature dropping below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we couldn’t pause long to wonder at all the snowy sights. We had to hurry along and keep our blood pumping. My hands froze almost instantly in my thin mittens, so I switched to thicker mittens and packed them with hand warmers.
For the most part, we were worried about Oreo, who has short fur. He was dressed in two doggy coats and his foot pads were coated with a protective wax. After about 30 minutes bounding through the snow, his whiskers and legs were coated with snow and ice.
Someone had been snowshoeing the trails before us and had left a nice packed trail for us to follow, so we walked quickly and took in as much of the trail network as possible before we noticed that Oreo was shivering and decided to call it quits. Back in the car, we talked about how the trail was a perfect place close to home to walk Oreo. So I imagine we’ll be back on warmer days.
More photos from the hike: