This month I’ve had the fortune to join three fellow Lincolnville, Maine residents on two exploratory hikes where we walked where old footsteps, carriage wheels tracks, and hoof prints achieved a degree of frequency that was sufficient to establishing primitive roads that ascended these coastal hills.
There are close to 30 miles of official trails in Camden Hills State Park.
What we are looking for does not appear on this map.
Now is the time of year to explore the remains of routes that date back to when white settlers began to settle this area previous to 1800. It’s approaching mid-December right now, when deciduous leaves have been stripped off the trees and the ground cover has died back to reveal the visible foundation of the landscape. What’s left are bare ledges and rock outcroppings that posed considerable navigational challenges to the earliest settlers to this midcoast Maine area. Here is an example of an ancient roadbed passing through the side of a rocky area:
The particular road that we tried to establish was one that came up from Youngtown Road above Lincolnville Center over the Camden Hills and then down into the settlement of Camden itself. Before 1804, there was no Route 52- the sheer cliffs on the west side of the Camden hills dropped right into Megunticook Lake. That all changed in 1806, after four years of hard labor of some forty men resulted in Daniel Barrett’s toll road. The flatness of that narrow winding road was much quicker and easier than the mountain road above Maiden’s Cliff that twisted its way near 1,000 feet of elevation.
Our walk today started at the “old Barrett homestead”, or as it is better known, the Maiden’s Cliff parking lot. We walked up the Maiden’s Ciff route for a short time, then veered right before the trail crossed a wide rocky stream. From there, we were able to follow a steadily ascending old road.
I expressed my doubts about whether a horse could draw a loaded wagon up the steep slope, or consider what is would take to hold back such a situation on a descent. We later agreed that this might have been on of the paths where timber from above was skidded down the mountain in winter or spring.
Here’s a massive pine tree that must have been 200 years old that had somehow escaped cutting.
It is so much easier tracing old paths with a small group, that can fan out in questionable areas and discuss route options in real time in a real place.
“You can feel it underfoot.”
“There’s a hand built berm laid up just to the left there.”
“ As good as the road is underneath us, It’s as rough as a cob all around us.”
In 1754, militia men forged a rough trail from Thomaston overland to Stockton Springs through what some Lincolnville historians term The Gut. We passed over that saddle later today, where we located old boundary markers and some very distinctive triangular hunks of weathered granite that were important lines of sight or outright ownership.
Today’s adventure with this group reminded me so much of a trek in southern New Mexico on the Continental Divide Trail back in May of 2013. Back then, my backpacking buddies Train, Wizard, General Lee and I were having a difficult time picking our way up the long-abandoned Butterfield Mail Coach route as it wound its nearly invisible track through a bone dry arroyo in the foothills of the Cooke Range. That stage route across the west started in 1857, and operated until 186. This was the era where the real wild West was settled. We were dodging Spanish Dagger plants then, and now I am pushing my way through thickets of bare young maple trees.
I loved walking today on a historic footpath that holds deep mysteries that have all but vanished in just over 200 years.
In the end, we took the first old road all the way up until we connected along the Jack Williams Trail, and took that to over Zeke’s Trail for a brief time when we veered off and continued the high line on another old road that eventually dipped down to known connections coming up from the Youngtown Road.
On the way back, Kerry discovered a pretty crude bush shelter, where someone had been squatting for a while, well off the marked trail. They left a mess.
If this mild December holds out any longer, I just might be up there again, spending the night on Bald Rock Mountain in the Camden Hills on Sunday so I can wake up on the solstice and watch the sun come up over the ocean and place its rays upon North America.
The life-affirming light will start to come back, once again, revealing yet another meaning of Christmas.