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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: February 10, 2019

Hiking in Maine: Hiking the Trails on Mt. Tom in Fryeburg

Written by: Carey Kish

Traveling west on Route 302 through the outskirts of Fryeburg, there’s a striking view northward of Mt. Tom, where the highway crosses the meandering Saco River.

A short distance beyond, you get an even better look across a huge open field at the steep south flank of the craggy 1,073-foot peak.

Keep driving toward Fryeburg until you reach Menotomy Road. A mile down this country lane is Fire Road 31B on the right and parking for the Mt. Tom Preserve, a 995-acre parcel owned by The Nature Conservancy. The West Ridge Trail begins here and climbs 1.7 miles to the summit of Mt. Tom.

Combine the new West Ridge Trail with the old Mt. Tom Trail and a saunter along Menotomy Road, and you’ve got yourself a pleasant loop hike of about four miles, replete with lovely scenery and interesting history. The elevation gain from the trailhead to the top of Mt. Tom is just 600 feet, so it’s not a demanding walk.

Since the mid-1980s, The Nature Conservancy has had a conservation eye on the upper Saco River corridor, which is home to one of the most extensive hardwood floodplains not only in Maine but New England. In 2000, the conservancy purchased the 625-acre Hastings Tract, which included significant frontage on the Saco River as well as a sizable chunk of the west, south and east slopes of Mt. Tom. The nonprofit bought the Zipper Tract, 370 acres on the east side of the Saco, in 2007.

The wetlands on the Saco River floodplain, with their graceful silver maples and threatened amphibians such as salamanders, turtles and snakes, as well as the adjacent large blocks of upland forests, were all of particular interest to The Nature Conservancy. In addition to half of Mt. Tom, the group has protected 3,500 feet of river frontage.

To encourage public use and connection to the land, the conservancy built the parking lot on Menotomy Road and the West Ridge Trail several years ago. The work was mostly done with the help of inner-city high school student interns from the LEAF program. The “Leaders for Environmental Action for the Future” program is part of the nonprofit’s highly successful youth engagement initiative, which is aimed at developing the next generation of conservation leaders.

The West Ridge Trail climbs steadily to the northwest ridge of Mt. Tom, crosses a couple of old woods roads, then continues over several short, steep pitches to an outcrop and a view southwest. Above, rock slabs and a narrow ridge lead to a cairn with a painted rock. Just beyond is the junction with the Mt. Tom Trail; the wooded summit is 200 yards to the right. The impressive ledges on top yield several nice window views eastward over the Saco River valley to Pleasant Mountain.

You could retrace your steps to your car via the West Ridge Trail, but I recommend descending by way of the Mt. Tom Trail, an old carriage road that was built in the 1800s to serve guests of the hotel that once operated below on Menotomy Road. This trail is on 120 acres owned by Lee Carter and his family, who have cared for the hiking route for 20 years.

The Carter family has been affiliated with Mt. Tom ever since Lee’s grandfather bought a log cabin (circa 1883) on the Old Mountain Road at the northwestern base of the mountain. In 1998, Carter seized on the opportunity to buy 20 acres around the historic cabin and restored the long grown-in view, which now extends 180 degrees from Mt. Chocorua to the hills around Lovell. In 1999, the 100-acre woodlot above the cabin changed hands and was clearcut. Carter bought the parcel soon after, preserving a good swath of the north side of Mt. Tom.

The Mt. Tom Trail winds down through the young hardwood forest, then emerges at a large field and the Carter home. The trail continues past the rustic Mt. Tom Cabin (available for rent, mttom.com) to finish at an old barn and small parking area. Turn left (west) and follow the quiet Menotomy Road to complete the walk. A poke around Menotomy Road Cemetery (circa 1874) makes a good diversion.

 

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