Just a couple of weeks ago, much of the snow had melted and it appeared an early spring was imminent. Two blockbuster storms later, we have excellent conditions for late winter cross country skiing throughout most of Maine.
Mount Blue State Park offers one of the finest cross country skiing opportunities in western Maine. Located in the mountainous region of Weld, the park has about fifteen miles of trails groomed for classic skiing. Consisting of five loop trails of varying lengths, all are moderately difficult.
Since the trail system does not get the same continuous attention provided at most commercial ski areas, the snow conditions can vary from superb to downright scary. Having experienced scary several times during the twenty five years I’ve been skiing at Mount Blue, I watch for the right combination of snow, consistency and weather. Prior to the almost two hour drive from Topsham, I check the park website for a status report on their grooming efforts.
My preferred ski in the park is the ten mile Maple Trail loop. Other options are two mile Birch Trail and shorter circuits on Fox, Moose and Pine Trails. All of the loops except Pine Trail depart from various points on Central Trail which begins at park headquarters. Pine Trail starts on the western end of Moose Trail.
The extensive Maple Trail offers a wide variety of wilderness settings and several different skiing challenges. Passing through fields, densely wooded areas and old farmlands, it seems the skier is always climbing or descending. About midway through the trek, there is a scenic overlook that offers an excellent chance to pause for a break.
The trailhead is located next to park headquarters on Center Hill Road in Weld where there is a large parking area. Several winter activities are available including a skating rink with a heated yurt. Snowshoe, snowmobile and ski trails all leave from the parking lot next to a kiosk with trail maps. Sliding is an option on Center Hill and arrangements can be made with park staff for winter camping. The day use fee is $5 for adults. Old people like me who are Maine residents get in free. I’d rather be young!
After a recent snowfall, I announced a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) ski trip in the park. Two club outdoor regulars, Ken Gordon and Eggman DeCoster, enthusiastically agreed to join me.
The three of us met at the parking area intent on skiing Maple Trail loop. Trails had recently been groomed with set tracks and there was a fresh layer of powder from the previous night making for exceptional conditions. Leaving on Central Trail, we soon crossed Center Hill Road and passed Moose and Fox Trails on the left. Climbing steadily, we arrived at the first downhill test. Perhaps the steepest drop on the loop, I’ve had more than my share of mishaps on the uneven, attenuated pitch. The new snow facilitated our snowplow turns and we all had accident free descents.
Just beyond is the junction for Birch and Maple Trails. Turning left, we began Maple Trail loop. Climbing a long gradual hill, we passed a vacant home and traversed an open field with excellent views northwest. Accessing a thick hardwood forest, we savored an extended circuitous descent before again crossing Center Hill Road. After a short uphill, a steep twisting downward slope was encountered. Complicated by a narrow road intersecting in the middle, we carefully negotiated the difficult, stimulating section of trail.
Following more downhill, we turned south and began the longest ascent of the day. Angling right in a conifer forest, we arrived at a lean-to located at the junction of a spur trail leading to Hedgehog Hill Overlook. A precipitous knoll, we experienced exceptional panoramic vistas of Tumbledown and Jackson Mountains from the scenic ridge.
Lingering for a relaxing lunch, our excursion continued with another long gentle downhill ski. Turning abruptly west, we experienced a protracted decline before spanning a bridge over Fran Brook at the bottom. Price for the downhill was a continual climb that took us through part of Birch Trail loop and back to Center Hill Road. Soon after, we rejoined Central Trail ending the Maple Trail tour.
Finishing our trek with a steep ascent followed by a gentle downhill and one final road crossing, we spent about three hours on the trail, including lunch at the overlook. Park literature says Maple Trail loop is ten miles long. I’m not sure if that distance includes the Central Trail. Regardless, it’s a rigorous workout on a remarkable trail.