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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Posted: November 2, 2018

Hiking in Maine: A grand experience awaits

Written by: Carey Kish

Deep in the woods of north central Washington County, a scant 15 miles west of the St. Croix River and the New Brunswick border, is where you’ll find the tiny community of Grand Lake Stream (population 109) at the heart of one of the most unheralded conservation success stories and some of the finest outdoor recreation opportunities in Maine.

The 55,687-acre Downeast Lakes Community Forest, a project of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, spans five unorganized townships around Grand Lake Stream and protects a remarkable 90 miles of pristine shorefront, most notably around sprawling West Grand Lake, but also Wabassus Lake, Pocumcus Lake, Third and Fourth Machias lakes, and Sysladobsis Lake.

The Grand Lake Stream region has a rich logging heritage but is perhaps best known for its world-class salmon and trout fishery, as well as boating, paddling and hunting. Home to the state’s largest concentration of registered Maine guides, numerous traditional camps and lodges dotting the area have accommodated sporting guests for more than a century.

Downeast Lakes Land Trust has made it an important part of its mission to expand recreation possibilities by building a terrific network of trails at seven locations that totals 12 miles of hiking.

This hiker has made a number of trips to Grand Lake Stream, most recently in late September. That’s when I connected with Colin Brown, education and outreach manager for DLLT, who pointed me to a couple unfamiliar trails.

The Tower Hill Trail leads east from the West Grand Lake Dam for a half-mile to the wooded 443-foot top of Indian Hill and the Grand Lake Stream firetower. Erected in 1934 and standing 30 feet, it’s the oldest enclosed wooden firetower in New England. DLLT is working with the Grand Lake Stream Historical Society to raise funds to restore the historic structure.

Beyond the tower, the path follows an undulating route over several knobs before descending to Bonney Brook Lake and meandering along its pretty south shore. From the bog lands at the small lake’s western end, the route follows camp roads and tote roads back to the tower. Altogether, it’s a nice 3-mile circuit.

Halfway along Grand Lake Stream Road between Route 1 in Princeton and Grand Lake Stream is the Musquash Esker Trail. This 1.5-mile, one-way path leads along a glacial esker via a grown-in tote road to end at Big Musquash Stream and a sweeping view west over the expansive wetlands to the trail-less 782-foot Amazon Mountain.

In the late 1990s, large industrial landowners in the Grand Lake Stream region began to divest their land holdings. Facing an uncertain future and threatened with fragmentation, development and loss of public access, local citizens, businesses and conservation groups mobilized to form the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, working together to save these precious lands.

Over the next 15 years, DLLT raised millions of dollars to purchase and protect in perpetuity the Farm Cove Tract, Wabassus Lake Tract, Yacolucci Woods and West Grand Lake Tract. Collectively known as the Downeast Lakes Community Forest, the property is managed for wildlife habitat, public recreation and sustainable timber.

To the north and south are chunks of the vast Sunrise Easement, a joint project of DLLT and the New England Forestry Foundation. This conservation easement encompasses 312,000 acres of productive timberlands and brings the protected land in the Grand Lake Stream area to an astounding 370,000 acres.

Other DLLT hikes deserve attention. Little Mayberry Cove Trail is on the west shore of West Grand Lake for 21/2 miles, from West Grand Lake Dam to Little Mayberry Cove. On the south of Pocumcus Lake, two loops of 1.3 miles or 3.6 miles are possible. And a 1-mile trail ascends 844-foot Wabassus Mountain.

Musquash Esker, Tower Hill and Little Mayberry Cove trails are accessible year-round, so when the snow flies, bring your snowshoes and skis for fine winter fun.

Make it a weekend with a stay at the comfy cozy Canalside Cabins (open all year) – Mary and John Arcaro are delightful hosts. The nearby Pine Tree General Store is the village hub with hearty eats and plenty of good conversation.

Visit Downeast Lakes Land Trust online at downeastlakes.org and download a copy of the comprehensive Visitor’s Guide, which also includes trail descriptions and maps.

 

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