Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on how much of the trail network you choose to explore. The trails total about 2.5 miles.
How to get there: From Route 11 in downtown Brownville, turn onto High Street, which might not be marked with a sign but is across the street from Church Street and Robinson’s Mobil store. On High Street, drive 4.4 miles. You’ll travel up Brown Hill and past the Moses Greenleaf monument, and the road will change to Williamsburg Road. At 4.4 miles, the pavement ends and a road veers off to the right. Stay straight, continuing on Williamsburg Road (now dirt) for about 1 mile to Piscataquis Community Demonstration Forest parking area, which will be on your right.
Information: The 180-acre Piscataquis County Demonstration Forest is a certified tree farm in the American Tree Farm System and features more than 2.5 miles of interpretive trails open to the public year round. Among the many highlights of the trail network are the remains of two large homesteads, a beautiful stand of tall red pines and a canyon formed by a glacier thousands of years ago.
Located in Williamsburg Township, the forest is maintained by the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District, which leads tours on the property about forest management practices, soil and water conservation, vernal pools and other topics, according to the Piscataquis County Tourism Development Authority.
The trails on the property are fairly wide and smooth, forming three loops great for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Throughout the network are many colorful displays about forestry practices, local wildlife and the history of the property. These displays include old photos provided by the Brownville Historical Society and illustrations by local children.
From the forest’s small parking lot, a wide path leads to the trailhead kiosk, where a detailed trail map and harvest-type map are located. Beyond the kiosk is a clearing that serves as an outdoor classroom, and nearby is the historic site of the Decker and Lovejoy Homestead, built in the 1800s. All that remains today are the foundations and an old well, both marked with interpretive signs.
To the right of the trailhead kiosk, just beyond the gate, is where the trail network begins. All trails are marked with blue blazes and signs posted on tree trunks.
You’ll start your hike on the Decker Trail, which soon leads to the Shelterwood Trail, a loop that visits a variety of harvest sites, including an area where pre-commercial thinning of softwood has been conducted and an example of shelterwood harvesting, a silvicultural technique used to naturally re-seed and grow the next forest while retaining part of the old forest. Interpretive displays along the loop explain these forestry methods.
Beyond the Shelterwood loop is the Canyon Trail, which travels through a canyon that is approximately 70 feet deep and 200 feet wide and contains a variety of hardwood trees, as well as an example of a nanny log and a geocache site. Interpretive signs point out and explain these features along the trail.
The Canyon Trail dips down into the canyon and crosses a narrow wooden bridge, then climbs back out to meet the Plantation Loop, which travels through a beautiful stand of red pine trees planted on a 12-acre field in 1957 as a timber crop. The tall, straight trunks of the pines are covered with rough, red-tinged bark, and the pines’ long needles litter the forest floor.
Also on the Plantation Loop are educational displays about the homesteaders who first settled this region in the late 1800s. They built their house foundations with granite quarried nearby and cleared the land for farming.
The north end of the Plantation Loop visits the historic Larson and Decker Homestead, and near the remains of the homestead’s large cellar, a short side trail leads to a clearing dotted with apple trees. This open area provides a great view to the north of Saddleback, Jo-Mary and Ebeemee mountains. A large pavilion was recently constructed at this vista so that visitors can take shelter, sit at a picnic table and take in the view.
Continuing on, the final loop of the trail network is the Larson Loop, which visits an old hemlock growth and examples of new and old clear cuts.
Though all trails are marked with signs, it’s best to carry a trail map with you the first couple times you visit the property. Maps are available at the Soil and Water Conservation District Office at 42 Pine Crest Drive in Dover-Foxcroft. You could also photograph the trail map posted on the trailhead kiosk. The interpretive displays are numbered, so you can use them to figure out where you are on the map if you get lost.
In 2007, the district was awarded two national awards from the Maine Association of Conservation Districts for their work in the forest, and the Maine Audubon Society has listed the Demonstration Forest in their “Maine Birding Trails” directory.
The trails are for foot traffic (including skis and snowshoes) only. Dogs are permitted if kept on leash. Fires are not permitted. For information, call 564-2321.
A thin layer of fresh snow covered Bangor, the hub of holiday shopping madness, on Dec. 16, when I escaped for a hike with my dog, Oreo. As I drove north, the landscape quickly changed. Snow clung to evergreens lining the road and piled up in the fields of Corinth and Charleston. By the time I reached Brownville, I was dealing with about 8 inches of fresh, white powder.
I’d never been to Williamsburg Township before, but it wasn’t hard to find. It’s just north of Brownville, another Pleasant River town.
The road leading to the Piscataquis County Demonstration Forest was lined with birch trees, which have a tendency to bend under the weight of ice and snow. That was the case on Dec. 16. Their tops dangled into the road so that I was forced pull to the side and continue on foot about 0.3 mile to the trailhead parking area.
The adventure began with what I thought at the time was a near disaster. I approached an interpretive display by the trailhead kiosk and read “old well.” It took a slow moment for me to process that the sign must be marking the location of said well. I looked down and saw that Oreo, who was on a paracord leash, was sniffing around by a pile of sticks and snow that probably covered the well. In a panic, I yanked him toward me and we
continued to the trail network.
The old well is covered up, I later was told by folks from the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District. It poses no danger to visitors.
As we explored the network of trails, I was impressed by the many interpretive displays, as well as the property’s different features — both historical and natural. I would suggest this trail network to a variety of people, from families looking for a nice, educational wilderness walk to avid cross-country skiers to history and forestry buffs.
My favorite spot, by far, was the stand of red pines. There was something so peaceful about those tall, straight trees, their reddish trunks dusted with snow on one side and bare on the other, the sun filtering through their frozen branches high overhead.
In the pavilion, I took off my pack, as well as Oreo’s dog pack and coat, which was soaked. He was shivering. Fortunately, I thought to pack a second dog coat of dry, warm fleece. Once he had that on, he seemed much happier.
After a snack of granola bar (for me), dog treats (for Oreo) and water (for both of us), we retraced our steps, jogging now and then to warm up. As we sped through the canyon and ducked under icy branches, clouds gathered and glowed pink in the darkening sky. By the time we reached the car, tiny snowflakes were falling.