Difficulty: Easy to moderate. There are just over 2 miles of trails on the preserve. These trails are especially rocky in some areas. The trail markers are faded and may be difficult to find in some places.
How to get there: From Orrington center (the intersection of Center Drive and Dow Road, not far from Orrington Center Church) take Center Drive east 3.7 miles, then turn left onto Richardson Road. Drive 0.3 mile and the parking area is a small gravel pull-off on your left. There you’ll find several signs for the property and two picnic tables.
GPS coordinates: 44.685105, -68.745268
Information: The Olin Richardson Tract Public Access Area is a 160-acre preserve in Orrington that features just over 2 miles of trails that travel through fields and forestland, across brooks and over small hills. More commonly known as the Richardson Tract, this town-owned property is maintained by the Orrington Conservation Commission for the benefit of wildlife and for public recreation.
The hiking trails on the property were created in 1980 by the local Boy Scout Troop 44, and they were restored in 2010 by Adam Strang as a project to earn Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America.
The preserve parking area is off Richardson Road. To reach the hiking trails, you’ll follow a mowed path through a field, then follow trailhead signs to a large picnic shelter that is a memorial to Wendell Hanscom (1927-2010), a lifelong resident of Orrington who was one of the Scoutmasters of Troop 44 and assisted with creating the original hiking trails throughout the Richardson Tract in 1980. He also helped organize the Boy Scout Penobscot Valley District Spring Camporee on the site in 1983.
The picnic shelter is located at the intersection of the hiking trails and the snowmobile trail that cuts through the property, which is fitting because Hanscom was a member of the Orrington Trail Riders Snowmobile Club for many years. He was also a member of the Orrington Conservation Commission and helped maintain the Orrington town parks, including moving the fields on the Richardson Tract.
The shelter was constructed in 2011 by Troop 44, as well as Hanscom’s six sons (all former scouts of Troop 44) and his brother. Funded by private donations, the shelter and picnic tables were built from hemlock trees that his sons cut and milled from his property using his brother’s portable saw mill.
Visitors are encouraged to sign a logbook in the shelter. It’s located in a metal box beneath some framed information about Hanscom and the shelter’s construction.
Beyond the shelter is the trailhead for the Frontier Trail, which is the longest trail in the network, forming a 0.74-mile loop that connects with all other trails in the network. Marked with blue painted blazes, the trail starts by crossing a small brook and entering the forest. Early on, the trail intersects with the Troop 44 Trail, which is marked with yellow painted blazes and measures just 0.15 mile long, reconnecting with Frontier Trail at the other end.
From there, the Frontier Trail forms a loop through the forest, and along the way are 12 numbered posts that were part of a tree identification Eagle Scout project. You’ll notice that each post is by a different tree species. See how many you can identify. Once I started paying attention, I identified hemlock, white pine, yellow birch and paper birch.
Constructed to be a traditional hiking trail, the Frontier Trail is especially rocky in some sections and damp in some other areas. However, narrow bog bridges help hikers over the wettest places, and a few small footbridges are located where the trail crosses brooks.
As the Frontier Trail circles back toward the picnic shelter, it intersects with the 0.25-mile Eagle Loop and 0.39-Eagle Trail, which will bring you back to the picnic shelter, passing by an old rock wall, a grove of old apple trees and a field on the way. This trail is blazed with white in some places, but in many places, it’s so wide and obvious that it’s not marked at all.
Throughout the network are geocaches, hidden containers that are mapped out on geocaching.com. These containers usually hold a logbook and small objects that can be traded for other objects of equal value. I suggest reading about the game, especially proper geocaching etiquette, before participating.
The Richardson Tract is open for public use year round, from a half hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset. Dogs are permitted if kept under control of their owners and picked up after. Camping and open fires are not permitted, however, fires are permitted in small, portable grills, for those who are picnicking. The property features several picnic tables, including two picnic tables by the parking area and three picnic tables in the Hansom Memorial picnic shelter. To learn more, call the Town of Orrington at 825-3340.
Personal note: With a high temperature of 27 degrees on Sunday, my husband and I debated on whether or not to allow our dog, Oreo to join us on our hike. With short fur, Oreo isn’t well suited for the cold, but he really needed the exercise. I just hate leaving him behind. So we bundled him up in a fleece dog jacket (I hand-stitched for him the week before) and a neckwarmer, and we hit the road in my new Subaru Forester Sport, which I’ve named Barry.
That’s right, Fred the white Forester is gone before his time. I was sad to see him go, but that’s a story for another time.
I chose to visit the Richardson Tract because it was close to my home and featured a small trail network that would only have us outside for a couple hours. The short hike would ensure that Oreo didn’t get too cold, and it would allow us plenty of time to make it to my sister’s holiday party that evening.
We’d never visited the Richardson Tract before, but it seemed like a good omen when we arrived to find wild turkeys and a couple white-tailed deer in the field below the parking area. Upon seeing us, these wild critters disappeared into the woods, but we saw plenty of tracks and scat scattered in the snow throughout the hike that gave us an idea of the variety of wildlife on the property. And we paused during our hike so I could creep around a few trees and photograph a hairy woodpeckers drilling at a tree. In one photo, I captured him actually pulling a worm out of the tree, proving that these birds don’t thump away at trees for no reason.
It turned out to be the perfect Sunday adventure, and we had the property entirely to ourselves. In the fields and in clearings, we allowed Oreo to run back and forth off leash to get out a little energy, but more importantly, to warm up. And on the trails, we leashed him so we could keep him in sight at all times.
If you’re interested in trees, you might find this property interesting. There are good examples of many different native tree species located along the Frontier Trail. And if you enjoy birding, I’d guess that the combination of forest and fields make for great birding in the spring and early summer.