Difficulty: Moderate. Though this trail doesn’t visit any mountains, it does dip into gullies and travel along steep riverbanks. Roots, uneven ground and several bog bridges require careful footing.
How to get there: From the traffic light in Belfast at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 52, drive south on Route 1 about 2.4 miles and turn right onto the driveway of the Belfast Water District office. Keep to the right when the drive splits and park at the back of the parking area, where there is a sign that reads “Hikers, please park here.”
The trail starts at the nearby kiosk. Always follow the blue blazes (paint marks) on the trees, and you will remain on the main trail. A few side trails lead to views of the river and reservoirs. In a little less than 1 mile, the trail will lead to Perkins Road. Turn left and follow the blazes down the road. You will reach the road’s intersection with Herrick Road and Congress Street. Cross through the intersection, veering left, and you will reach the river’s upper reservoir and a sign that reads “Little River Trail.” From the sign, you can see the trail re-entering the woods beside the reservoir. Continue on the trail 3 miles and you will reach Walsh Fields Recreation Area off Route 52, which also has a parking area.
Information: The Little River Community Trail was built by the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, a nonprofit that supports conservation and stewardship of natural, scenic, historic and public access resources of the Belfast Bay watershed. The coalition tackles a variety of projects, from educational outreach to trail maintenance to public nature outings.
The completed Little River Community Trail officially opened October 2007, according to a previous BDN story, and was constructed in part with funds from the Project Canopy Grant from the Maine Forest Service, along with help from several local businesses and many volunteers. Though the trail is not far from downtown Belfast and the Belfast Municipal Airport, it gives the impression that it’s out in the wilderness as it travels along the river and through mature forest. Hikers won’t see any houses or roads aside from when the trail crosses a road at the 1 mile mark.
The trail is free to use dawn to dusk, year round, and is great for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, according to the coalition. Dogs are allowed if on a leash. Be sure to pick up after your pet.
From end to end, the trail is approximately 4 miles long, but the hike is broken up into two sections and can therefore be treated as two separate hikes.
Section 1: From the Belfast Water District office parking area for hikers, the trail skirts the north shore of Little River’s lower reservoir (also known as Belfast Reservoir Number One) and under tall white pines. Keep an eye out for the many species of waterfowl that live and feed around the margins of the reservoir, according to the coalition. The trail travels over hilly terrain near the water, which soon narrows into a river. The mature forest is home to a variety of birds.
After about 1 mile, the trail comes to a large hayfield off Perkins Road. Notice the beautiful tree standing alone in the field. You can turn back here or proceed forward. To continue forward, turn left when the trail reaches Perkin’s Road. You will notice blue blazes painted along the road. Follow the blazes to the road’s intersection with Herrick Road and Congress Street. Cross the intersection and approach a sign that reads “Little River Trail” by the dam and the next section of the trial around the upper reservoir (also known as Belfast Reservoir Number Two).
Section 2: Again, the trail follows blue blazes along the water’s edge. The reservoir gradually narrows to the Little River’s original stream, and continues through a mixed forest (more leafy than the first section of trail) with some large hemlocks. This section of the trail is 3 miles and ends at the Walsh Field Recreation Area off Route 52.
A good landmark to gain your bearings is a large boulder beside the river at 1.7 miles, according to the coalition. The newest section of trail continues from there another 1.3 miles to the ball field.
Remember, this is not a loop hike. That means, unless you park vehicles at both ends, you will need to hike back, making for an 8-mile walk in the woods.
Little River has an interesting history, some of which is told at Belfast Water District’s website at www.belfastwater.org.
According to the site, Belfast Water Company was formed in 1887 and constructed of a 175-foot long dam on Little River’s lower reservoir (Belfast Reservoir Number One), as well as a brick pump house. During World War II, a lookout cupola was added to the pump house to be used by the Civilian Defense to watch of Belfast Bay for enemy submarines.
In 1919, the state created the Belfast Water District, which purchased from the Belfast Water Company the entire water plant.
In October 1943, Belfast experienced the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in 65 years. The water of Little River rose and forced the 10-foot granite blocks to fall off the dam. The water then propelled the blocks in the direction of the bridge on Route 1. The blocks and a wall of water rushing in from the bay took out the bridge. The pump house was flooded and windows and doors blown out. The dam was replaced the next year.
In 1980, the Belfast Water District discontinued using the Little River reservoirs, and two wells on the east side of Belfast became the sole supply of water for the district. Today, an additional four above-ground storage tanks and 39 miles of water mains supply a population of about 6,750.
For information about the Little River Community Trail, as well as a trail map, visit www.belfastbaywatershed.org.
Personal note: In my opinion, the trail is not suitable for young children because it travels along steep riverbanks much of the time and crosses several brooks. Because of the uneven terrain, walking poles would come in handy for anyone attempting the hike.
My first hike of the Little River Community Trail was more of a swim.
On May 26, an overcast Sunday, canine hiking buddy Oreo and I drove to the Belfast Water District office, determined to explore the 4-mile-long trail, rain or shine. It had been raining for the previous three days, so the peeks of sunshine that morning were encouraging signs.
Nevertheless, a few miles down the muddy yet beautiful trail, the morning drizzle turned into rain. Then the rain turned into a downpour that infiltrated the forest canopy and soaked both Oreo and I to the bone. It was the kind of rain that ignores your eyebrows and eyelashes and pours right into your eyes so that you’ve got to wipe water from your face constantly just so you aren’t walking blind.
Once I was good and soaked, my discomfort ebbed away and I was able to stop and admire the stunningly green world around me — moss, leaves, unfurling ferns and tall grass. Amidst the green, Oreo and I spotted a yellow balloon floating at the edge of Little River. I fished it out, popped and tied to my pack (Oreo barked at it). We also paused on an an outcropping and watched the frothing water below the upper reservoir before rushing to the end of the hike.
After 4 miles of hiking through rain and puddles, we were ever so grateful when my Aunt Nancy from Belfast picked us up at Walsh ball field and taxied our muddy butts back to Fred the Forester, which was parked at the Belfast Water District office.