Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. The trails in this network are only suitable for a mountain bike, not a road bike. The easiest trails follow old gravel roads that have been overgrown by grass that is mowed on occasion. Branching off of the old roads are single-track bike trails that are filled with roots and rocks. On the trail maps posted throughout the property, the gravel roads are traced in green and circles; the intermediate single-track trails are traced in blue and squares; and the most difficult single-track trails are traced in black and diamonds. There are also a few short hiking trails, which are traced with black dashed lines.
How to get there: Take I-95 Exit 193, then turn north on Stillwater Avenue toward Stillwater River. In about 0.4 mile, turn left onto Bennoch Road. Drive 0.6 mile, then turn left onto Kirkland Road. Drive about 4.4 miles and a gravel parking lot for the trail network will be on your left. On the trail map, this is called Trailhead #2 and it provides easy access to the old tote roads that run through the property and connect all the single-track trails and hiking trails. It’s also a trailhead for North Trail, a single-track biking trail for expert riders.
Trailhead #1, located about 0.4 mile north of Trailhead #2 on Kirkland Road, provides access to a hiking trail called Spruce Trail and an intermediate single-track trail called Bo’s Run. And Trailhead #3, located on Poplar Street, provides access to a hiking trail called South Trail.
Information: The Rick Swan Trail System is a mountain biking and wildlife watching destination located on an 850-acre forested parcel on Perch Pond in Old Town. Since the property came under ownership of the University of Maine in 2010, local mountain bikers have developed more than eight miles of intersecting single-track trails under the direction of UMaine forester Al Kimball, the Forest Society of Maine and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. In addition, old gravel roads and a number of hiking trails are tied into the network.
While there are many other mountain biking trails in Orono and Old Town, this particular trail system was designed to provide drier riding conditions during the springtime, when mud clogs most of the trails in Maine. The system also provides access to Perch Pond, a 366-acre body of water formerly known as Mud Pond.
The Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association describes this trail network as one that offers “challenging New England style technical riding,” which essentially means that the trails include plenty of rocks and tree roots, twists and uneven terrain.
For beginner mountain bikers, there are a few old gravel roads in the network that offer easy riding with only an occasional rock or downed tree. These gravel roads are overgrown with grass, which is mowed on occasion. You’ll also find ferns and wildflowers on these roads.
The single-track biking trails in the network vary in length from 0.5 mile to 2 miles, and they intersect in several places. Intersections are marked with numbers, and at most, there are trail maps posted. Nevertheless, navigating the network can be a bit confusing.
If new to mountain biking, keep in mind that single-track trails are narrow, often passing between trees with just enough room for your handle bars. These types of trails require skill in steering, switching gears and shifting body weight. Wear a helmet.
For hikers, there are a few trails that are designated specifically for foot traffic, including a trail that travels along the shore of Perch Pond. Wildlife spotted on the property include moose, deer and porcupine, according to PRNEMBA.
Dogs are permitted on the property but must under control at all times. For updates on the trail network and information about other area mountain biking trails, visit the PRNEMBA website at pr.nemba.org or call the University of Maine Forestry office at 581-2849.
Personal note: “Come feel your tires,” my husband Derek said, calling me away from the trail map posted at the trailhead.
I walked over to my mountain bike and squeezed a tire.
“I don’t know what it supposed to feel like,” I said, being new to mountain biking. “Is it like an avocado? You want a little give?”
“You’ll learn,” he said. “I like mine pretty hard, but you may want them a little softer, especially if there are a lot of roots and rocks.”
We soon learned that was absolutely the case. The trails were filled with roots and rocks. Starting at the #2 Trailhead of the Rick Swan Trail System, I walk my bike along a rough, rocky trail to a nearby grassy road. From studying the map, I knew the road would lead into the forest to several single-track biking trails, and due to my rookie status, we’d be sticking to the intermediate single-track trails, those marked on the map in blue.
Nevertheless, the blue trails proved challenging, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice that I was actually improving. I steered around tree stumps and boulders, muscled it over roots and rocks, maneuvered between trees and braved a few hills. Of course, I also got caught up on plenty of obstacles. There were times when, with a huff of frustration, I hopped off my bike and walked it through a particularly rough section of trail. But I didn’t run into any trees — and that’s victory in my book.
For me, someone who just started mountain biking last fall, the intermediate single-track trails in the system were pretty rough. They tested my patience, but they also helped me develop some skills — and appreciate smoother trails. The grassy roads that run through the property offered us a break from the bumps and turns. They also allowed us to sneak up on wildlife. As we sped along the gravel-surfaced route, we came across wild turkeys and a variety of other birds. We also spotted an eastern painted turtle that appeared to be digging in the gravel by a stream, likely to bury eggs.
After the bike ride, we went for ice cream at The Family Dog, which has indoor and outdoor seating. It also has a full menu of pub fare if you’re looking for an actual meal. It was the second time we’d visited the Orono restaurant after a bike ride in the area, so it’s quickly becoming a tradition.