Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The 2.5-mile trail travels through the woods beside Messalonskee Stream, over terrain that includes small hills, rocks and exposed tree roots. The trail also travels along a wide ATV trail at its south end. While the majority of the trail is well-marked, the section of the trail that follows the ATV trail is not well marked. Therefore, if it’s your first time on the trail, it will be important to carry a trail map with you.
How to get there: Both ends of the trail have small parking areas.
The south parking area is a small fenced in area off Kennedy Memorial Drive, across Messalonskee Stream from the Oakland Town Office, which is located at 6 Cascade Mill Road. After crossing the bridge, the gravel entrance into the parking area will be on your left. The trail starts right at the parking area.
The north parking area is off Rice Rips Road in Oakland, approximately 0.3 mile from where Rice Rips Road intersects with Route 23 (Fairfield Street). Driving from the direction of Route 23, the gravel parking area will be on your left, just after crossing a small bridge over Messalonskee Stream. The trail — marked with a green trail sign — starts directly across the road, follow the penstock (large water pipe) leading to Rice Rips Dam.
Information: Threading through the quiet forest along the banks of Messalonskee Stream, the 2.5-mile Messalonskee Stream Trail opened in 2007 and has since become a popular spot for local residents to hike, run and walk their dogs. It’s also an excellent place for picnicking and wildlife watching, since the stream attracts a variety of waterfowl and wading birds, as well as bald eagles, and the forestland is filled with songbirds and woodpeckers.
The trail, which stretches between Kennedy Memorial Drive and Rice Rips Road in Oakland, was is constructed by the Maine Conservation Corps as a traditional hiking trail, marked with white painted blazes, with a blue or red diamond marking the center of each blaze. Features of the trail include long stretches of bog bridges, scenic wooden bridges that span brooks, and picnic tables at scenic outlooks along the stream. In addition, short green signs posts mark every quarter mile.
The trail is maintained by the town of Oakland, which collaborated with several local business and organizations, including Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, to build the trail and make it open to the public.
Most people who use the trail park at the south trailhead, which is located off Kennedy Memorial Drive and includes a kiosk displaying a map of the trail and visitor guidelines. Just past the kiosk, the trail starts in an opening in the chain link fence that surrounds the parking area.
The trail is open from sunrise to sundown. Dogs are permitted on the trail but must be under control at all times, and dog owners are expected to pick up after their pets. Smoking, fires, drugs and alcohol are not permitted.
Past the fence of the south parking area, the trail strikes across an open area toward the forest. To your left is a penstock that carries water to a stone structure that was one of Central Maine Power’s first hydropower stations. The trail then heads into a beautiful evergreen forest with Messalonskee Stream widening to your left.
Just a short way down the trail, you’ll be able to see the buildings of the old Cascade Woolen Mill through the trees to your left. The mill was constructed in 1882 and for many years, the mill was a primary employer and manufacturing enterprise in Oakland.
In the first years of production, the mill manufactured woolen fabric for women’s clothing and a twilled men’s suit fabric. Government contracts during World War II called for wool-cotton blends for lining military jackets. And in the 1990s, the mill produced upholstery, sportswear and hunting outerwear. The mill closed in 1997, and in the winter of 2010, it was destroyed in a fire.
While this mill provided jobs for many Waterville-area residents over the years, it was also the cause of major stream pollution, according to the conservation organization Maine Rivers. Until the early 1990s, pollution discharges from the mill and residential treated sewage caused Messalonskee Stream to fail to meet minimum state standards for dissolved oxygen. Today, the stream is in the recovery process, as are many Maine waterways.
While much of the forest is evergreen — including a stand of tell hemlocks trees — there’s also a variety of deciduous trees scattered throughout the forest, including grey, paper and yellow birch.
About halfway through the hike, a wooden bridge crosses a bubbling brook, then the trail leads to the edge of the water, where a picnic table is located at a scenic outlook. The trail follows close to the water’s edge for a short distance, then heads away from the stream over a series of bog bridges and over an old rock wall before coming out at powerlines at about the 1.75-mile mark. Just before the powerlines is a wooden bench.
At the powerlines, the blazes marking the trail disappear, but a green trail sign directs you to turn left and follow a wide ATV trail along the powerlines. This ATV trail travels over a few hills and over a wooden footbridge as it leads to the dam access road, where you will turn left and walk down a long set of wooden stairs to Rice Rips Dam.
At Rice Rips Dam, the trail follows a metal walkway over penstock and down metal stairs to a wide trail that follows the penstock to Rice Rips Road. The north parking area is directly across the road. Be sure to park to the right in the gravel parking area so you don’t block the gate.
For more information, visit the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails website at www.kmtrail.org.
Personal note: Streams of water shot from leaks in the old penstock here and then, creating arcs through the air. Following the patched water pipe, I walked Oreo to Rice Rips Dam on Nov. 18, a sunny Friday that had warmed to the mid-50s. Before long, I shed my fleece and simply hiked in a tank top, enjoying the warmth while it lasted.
Surrounded by graffiti, Oreo took a drink in the pool beneath Rice Rips Dam and railroad bridge, then we continued on, climbing the metal steps and walkways over the penstock. Noticing Oreo was having a hard time on the metal grate, I picked the 50-pound dog up, hugged him to my chest, and carried him the rest of the way.
At first, the hike was a bit frustrating. Starting at the north trailhead, we soon reached ATV trails, where most of the trail markers disappeared. Studying the map, I decided to stick with the power lines and was happy when the trail turned off the ATV trails and became a marked hiking trail about 0.75 mile into the hike.
Leading away from the power lines, the trail traveled downhill to Messalonskee Stream, where we mistakenly spooked two mallard ducks, which flew off to swim beside a pair of hooded mergansers in the distance. And farther down the trail, we watched a great blue heron glide over the water, its long legs dangling beneath it.
We also came across other trail users — three dog walkers and a trail runner, and when I arrived back at the north trailhead that afternoon, another trail user had just parked. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to complete the whole trail (a 5-mile hike out and back) that day, but we did make it more than half way. The sun was rapidly sinking at 3 p.m. when I turned around and walked back to the parking area. Winter Solstice will be here before we know it.