Difficulty: Easy. The 1.5-mile trail is wide, straight and fairly level with a hard-packed surface.
How to get there: The only established parking area for the trail is at the end of the road that runs through Asher Farms mobile home park in Benton. To get there from the intersection of Bridge Street and Benton Avenue-River Road, drive south on Benton Avenue 0.3 mile and the entrance to Asher Farms will be on your right, marked with a sign. Drive through the mobile home park and park at the gravel turnaround at the end of the road, then continue on foot, downhill to the trailhead kiosk.
Information: Tracing an old railroad bed, the Rotary Centennial Trail is a wide multi-use path that travels through a hardwood forest above the banks of the Kennebec River, linking the towns of Benton and Winslow. With side trails that lead to views on the river, the trail features a few benches and picnic tables, as well as a scenic overlook at the end of an old railroad bridge.
The trail was constructed by the nonprofit Kennebec Messalonskee Trails in 2004 and 2005, and was primarily funded by the Waterville Rotary Club, which made it a project to celebrate the centennial of Rotary International. Additional funding came from the State Recreational Trails Fund, the Town of Benton, Paul Newman and contributors to Kennebec Messalonskee Trails. And the land is owned by Central Maine Power Company.
The north end of the trail is at Asher Farms mobile home park in Benton, where a kiosk displays trail rules and a trail map. The trail is open to foot traffic, cross-country skiers and bicyclists. Motorized traffic, horses, camping and fires are prohibited. Dogs are permitted if under their owner’s control and picked up after.
From the kiosk, the trail heads south, tracing a railroad segment that was active from 1853 to 1918. During the time, trains would travel from Benton to Winslow, where they would cross an iron bridge over the Kennebec River. In 1917, that iron bridge was replaced by a new double-track trestle that was built over the river between Benton and Fairfield, rendering the section of the railroad between Benton and Winslow useless.
Nowadays, trees and vegetation are crowding both sides of the old railroad bed, making for a truly beautiful woods walk. Along the trail, small posts mark every 0.25 mile. Side trails lead to views on the Kennebec River, where benches are located. And just before the town line to Winslow, a side trail leads to a picnic area tucked in the woods by the river. This scenic spot is filled with tall oak trees, making it an especially beautiful place when fall foliage is at its peak.
Wildlife commonly spotted by trail users include wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, a variety of ducks, beavers, turtles, and the occasional heron and bald eagle, according to Kennebec Messalonskee Trails.
Shooting off the trail away from the river are several trails that lead to private residences nearby. These informal trails are for the use of residents in the area.
Not far from the trail’s southern end in Winslow, a wide side trail turns to the river (following the old railroad bed) to dead-end on an abutment that is a part of the old rail bridge, the rest of which was dismantled. From that viewpoint, you can look up and down the river for a mile each way, and looking straight out across the river, you’ll see a series of granite piers that used to hold up the bridge. Located in the middle of this abutment is a granite circle sculpture (or seat) to commemorate Rotary International’s centennial in 2005.
Where the Rotary Centennial Trail ends in Winslow, the East Kennebec Trail begins and continues along the river for 0.5 mile to the Scale House Trail, a gravel and grassy trail that connects to the Winslow Community Trails.
For more information about the Rotary Centennial Trail and other trails in the area, visit https://www.kmtrails.com, or call (207) 873-6443.
Personal note: It was a blustery, cold day in late December when I first hiked the Rotary Centennial Trail. Snow had fallen the night before, painting the landscape white. And the temperature was in the low 20s, encouraging most folks to stay indoors for the day. So it was no surprise when I saw not another soul during my snowshoe trek on the trail, which I explored from end to end just after lunch.
Hiking alone, I delighted in the beauty of ice crystals raining down from the trees and bands of shadows stretching across the frozen Kennebec River. On occasion, I heard chickadees, but for the most part, gusts of wind drowned out any birdsong. Pulling my Santa hat snugly over my ears, I kept up a good pace, pausing to photograph each overlook and picnic area.
Across the river, a train chugged by, its rattle echoing through the trees. Stamped in the snow were the tracks of deer, dogs and trail users from days before. About a mile into the hike, I came upon a picnic table, nestled in the forest right by the Winslow-Benton town line. As I sat on its snow-covered seat, I imagined how the location might appear during the fall, when the tall oak trees would be crowned with bright orange leaves.
trail. I was glad to see the structures, which provide a spot for bats to roost during the day and raise their young. I’ve written about bats several times for the BDN, and I’ve learned that while these flying mammals are often portrayed as scary pests, they’re actually quite beneficial to humans and the environment, consuming vast quantities of mosquitoes and other flying insects.
At the old railroad bridge near the south end of the trail, I spent some time in the sun, enjoying the views of the river. I also tried to dust the snow off the round, stone sculpture there, but gave up when I found much of it encased in ice. Later, I found an ice-free image of the sculpture online so I could see the words etched into it, which simply commemorate the Rotary International centennial in 2005, which the trail was named after.