For a wonderful spring ramble along the pristine shoreline of two reservoirs and a scenic stretch of rushing river, I highly recommend the Little River Community Trail in Belfast.
This four-mile trail, just minutes from downtown, was built by the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition and opened to the public 12 years ago.
The trail is a point-to-point hike, starting at the Belfast Water District facility on Route 1 and ending on Route 52, where you’ll want to spot a car or bicycle. Another option is to call Bay Taxi (338-1993) for a ride back to your car.
The Little River Community Trail begins at the east end of Belfast Reservoir No. 1, where there’s an information kiosk and picnic table. Before you start, be sure to get a good look at the red brick building of the old water works and the outlet dam just below it.
After devastating fires swept through downtown Belfast in 1865 and then in 1871, local officials decided that the existing water supply was inadequate for fire protection. In an 1887 special election, Belfast citizens voted to accept a proposal by a Boston civil engineering firm to create the Belfast Water Company.
Soon after, construction of a 175-foot dam near the mouth of the Little River commenced, eventually backing up two large reservoirs, each with an average depth of 20 feet. A brick pump house for two turbine pumps and a steam pump was built on the north side of the river.
The water district discontinued using the Little River reservoirs in 1980, relying entirely on two wells in a sand and gravel aquifer on the east side of the city as the sole source of clean water. Today the brick pump house is a popular landmark and serves as the offices of the Belfast Water District.
The blue-blazed trail follows the north shore of the reservoir. Along the way you’ll pass a small pebbly beach and wend through stands of tall white pines. The trail makes numerous short ups and downs as it crosses the washboard terrain.
At the narrow western arm of the reservoir, a high-water bypass trail departs to the right and rejoins the main path ahead. After a rope swing and swimming hole, the trail makes its way to a rocky ledge above the tumbling Little River.
The trail soon reaches Perkins Road; follow this to Herrick Road and a dam and waterfall, the east end of Belfast Reservoir No. 2.
This land – and all the land – in the Belfast area was once the domain of the native Abenaki, who summered here to feast on the abundant fish, shellfish and waterfowl. The land became part of the Muscongus Patent in 1630, which allowed English settlers to establish fur trading posts. Around 1720, General Samuel Waldo of Boston purchased the patent and the land.
After Waldo died in 1759, his heirs sold the tract, then known as the Passagassawakeag Plantation. The new owners, a group of Irish and Scot proprietors from Londonderry, New Hampshire, renamed the area Belfast after Belfast in Northern Ireland. The seaport of Belfast was incorporated as a town in 1773.
The reservoir opens up to the left as the path follows around a cove. Veering away from the water, the trail crosses a ravine on a footbridge before returning to the lake at a shady grove of hemlocks and pines. There’s more washboard terrain ahead, with inlets and wet areas to be crossed. The trail eventually climbs high above the Little River, then drops back down along it.
The Little River is one of the four small watersheds, including the Passagassawakeag and Goose rivers, and Wescott Stream, that comprise the 69,657-acre Belfast Bay Watershed, which drains all or part of nine coastal communities in this area of Waldo County.
The trail finally leaves the river and turns north, skirting the edge of the Belfast Municipal Airport before crossing a large field to finish at the Walsh Ballfields parking area.
The Little River Community Trail is open year-round from dawn to dusk. Dogs are allowed on leash. For more information and a trail map, visit belfastbaywatershed.org.