Maps of all kinds litter my office space, offering ample distraction whenever my concentration on the task at hand starts to wane. A certified geography geek, I can easily spend hours lost in far off thoughts while scanning a map’s highway numbers, trail routes, mountain and river names and other such features.
One of my favorite maps is produced by Portland Trails, the nonprofit urban land trust founded in 1991 that is dedicated to conservation, recreation and human-powered transportation in Greater Portland. I’ve carried every edition of the map on explorations of the urban wilds, logging countless hours of walking, running and biking over 20 years as a Portland area denizen.
Along with a host of public and private partners in the region, Portland Trails has worked to preserve and promote an outstanding system of parks, open spaces and green corridors as well as establish and maintain a robust network of nonmotorized, multiuse trails. These natural treasures connect people and places not only across Portland but also the neighboring communities of Falmouth, Westbrook and South Portland.
Portland Trails long ago surpassed its original goal of a 30-mile trail network. It reached the 50-mile mark in 2011, and today has exceeded 70 miles of public trails. Incredibly, there is a trail within a half-mile of every Portland residence, so it’s no wonder that the group records more than 1 million users annually, including locals and visitors.
The latest edition of the Portland Trails map describes 31 trails, a handful of which are recommended here for a good look around the region on foot. And while you’re out there, be sure to tip your hiking cap to the many volunteers, members and businesses for their wonderful support and tireless dedication over the past 25 years.
Go for a ramble on the Forest City Trail, a 10-mile route that connects many of the wild places, green spaces and historic neighborhoods of the city, from the Stroudwater River to the Fore River Sanctuary, Evergreen Cemetery to Oat Nuts Park and the Presumpscot River Preserve. The trail can be accessed from numerous points en route.
For a waterfront walk, circle scenic Back Cove with views of the downtown skyline, then saunter around the Eastern Prom for a look over Casco Bay to Mackworth Island, Fort Gorges and Peaks Island.
The Falmouth Nature Preserve and adjacent Mill Creek Preserve on Foreside Road are home to a system of five color-coded trails that lead through the woods to the salt marshes along Mill Creek, a tidal estuary.
A couple miles south on U.S. Route 1 is Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary, the headquarters of Maine Audubon. Two miles of trails wend through the 65-acre property fronting the Presumpscot River, past a pond, meadows, an orchard and salt marshes.
On the Westbrook River Walk, you can amble along the Presumpscot River through Riverbank Park, then loop back through the city’s historic downtown district. For more Westbrook exploring, try the East Bridge Street section of the Presumpscot River Trail, where woods and fields await.
Take in a 2.5-mile stretch of Casco Bay on the Spring Point Shoreway, a wandering stroll from Willard Beach through the campus of Southern Maine Community College to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and Fort Preble and on to the Liberty Ship Memorial and Bug Light Park.
If you’re hankering for more, tackle some or all of the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, which slices across town and connects a number of parks along its nearly 6-mile route.
The Portland Trails map includes just one of Cape’s green spaces, the extensive grounds of Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light. It’s easy to spend hours here meandering about the clifftop paths, rocky beaches, wooded areas, grassy fields and military ruins.
For more information and a trail map, visit www.trails.org or call 775-2411.