Fractured Memories on the Kennebec River Rail Trail

The Kennebec River Rail-Trail is in my opinion the best bike trail in Central Maine. Paralleling the long inactive Maine Central Railroad tracks, it’s a most excellent paved trail that connects Gardiner to Augusta. Having grown up in Gardiner and the little town across the river, Randolph, it’s a place with many special memories.

My 5th Grade class at Randolph Grammar School (RGS) may have been one of the last student groups to take the passenger service train between Gardiner and Augusta. In May 1958, our aged teacher Miss Gould led a class of about 30 awestruck kids on a field trip to the state capital. Marching us across the Gardiner Randolph Bridge to Depot Square in Gardiner, we boarded the train for Augusta.

A day of excitement and adventure for a group of ten and eleven year olds the tougher than nails Miss Gould escorted us in military fashion to the Blaine House, State Capitol Building and the Augusta House where her mandated lunch of choice was baked chicken with mashed potatoes and peas. No alternative meals were considered – Miss Gould didn’t do alternatives. It was a marvelous, unforgettable day.

Weighing in at about 80 pounds, Miss Gould was no lightweight, rather a stern disciplinarian. At a time when corporal punishment was losing favor, she may have conducted the last mass strapping of students in Maine, maybe the entire country. Serial offenders, five of us boys were accused of swearing on the playground and illegally climbing to the top of the clearly unsafe fire escape. As I later told my Dad, “I didn’t do it.” The name of the girl who ratted on us will not be disclosed.

Summarily tried, convicted and sentenced, Miss Gould lined us culprits up in front of the class and administered ten healthy whacks on the hand with a hard leather strap. Exhausted by the time she finished, if you had to get strapped by anyone at RGS, tiny Miss Gould was the executioner of choice. Trust me when I tell you that two of the true heavyweight educators could really lay on a mean wallop. The more draconian of the two never announced how many lashes you were going to receive. Her MO was simple; she didn’t stop until tears were drawn.

I digress. The Kennebec River Trail is a truly enjoyable and scenic ride, most of it along the river. I almost always begin in the Hannaford’s Supermarket parking lot in Gardiner where there is usually ample parking. My reasoning is simple, I prefer to start the ride climbing uphill and having an easier descent on return. Explaining this to my late great friend Bill Kaiser a few years ago when I introduced him to the trail, he scoffed in disgust. “Ronnie,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. Its flat water between Gardiner and Augusta, there’s no difference in the elevation.” According to Wikipedia, the official elevation for Augusta is 68 feet and 23 for Gardiner. I rest my case, Bill. Wish you were still with us so that I could really rub it in.

It was a beautiful sunny day for my recent ride. Leaving the Gardiner Trailhead, I was one of several cyclists who rode north enjoying views of the river and Randolph beyond. At about mile one, we passed old river logging booms used to hold millions of tons of logs and pulp wood floated downriver for decades before ending in the late sixties. Just north is Brown’s Island where three friends and I paddled a “borrowed” rowboat in search of Captain Kidd’s buried treasure approximately 60 years ago. Finding no treasure, we struggled mightily against a strong unanticipated incoming tide on our return.

Shortly after, the trail leaves the river and travels slightly inland to Hallowell. When I was young, Hallowell was a very poor, struggling town. Now, it’s gentrified. Unfortunately, the business section of town is the only flaw in the trail. For about a half mile, the trail effectively ends. The choice is riding through congested Water Street traffic or taking unpaved Front Street behind the stores next to the river that is signed for private traffic only. Being a Miss Gould certified scofflaw, I usually take Front Street – she would not approve.

Once north of town, riders are back to an idyllic paved trail along the river. Typically, we encountered increased traffic approaching Augusta. If you ride to the Augusta parking area, my odometer reads 6.3 miles, making for an extremely pleasant near 13 mile roundtrip ride.

If you can locate Hannaford’s in Gardiner, you can find the southern trailhead. From the parking lot, visualize the inimitable Miss Gould herding her class into the old train depot that’s still in existence across the street.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.