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Hiking in Maine: Group takes on ambitious trail-building efforts in Bethel area

West Ledge is a delightful spot high on the slopes of Locke Mountain in the Bethel Community Forest, not far from the Newry town line. The grand view from this granite perch extends far out over the Androscoggin River valley and takes in the village of Bethel, the peaks around Evans Notch and the high summits of the Carters in the White Mountains.

The Summit Ridge Trail continues on from West Ledge to the aptly named Ridgetop View, which looks out to Barker Mountain, Black Mountain and Wheeler Mountain. The trail ends here – for now – but a sign that reads “To Be Continued” is a harbinger of things to come, thanks to the resolute efforts of Inland Woods + Trails, a Bethel-based nonprofit.

When Inland Woods + Trails acquired the 978-acre Bethel Community Forest three years ago, there were woods roads and skidder tracks but no foot trails. In fact, even though the land forms a beautiful backdrop to the town of Bethel, it had been privately owned timberland and most people in the area didn’t know much about it, per Gabe Perkins, executive director of Inland Woods + Trails.

“The first thing we did was to walk the land and catalog its natural resource assets and outdoor recreation potential,” said Perkins. “Today, more than eight miles of hiking trails and eight miles of mountain bike trails – all well-marked and signed – wind through the property, along with snowmobile trails and the forestry roads.”

Abutting the Bethel Community Forest is the 2,358-acre Bingham Forest, which is home to the headwaters of Chapman Brook. The brook served as Bethel’s public drinking water supply until 2007, when floodwaters from a torrential rainstorm damaged the system’s infrastructure. Ownership transferred from the Bethel Water District to the Town of Bethel three years later.

Inland Woods + Trails serves as the recreation manager for the Bingham Forest, and in 2020, built the Bingham Cascades Trail. The trail departs from the Summit Ridge Trail in the Bethel Community Forest to reach a series of waterfalls and cascades on Chapman Brook and several subsidiary streams. In addition, several mountain bike trails have been completed and woods roads cleared for multiple use. As soon as funding is secured, construction will begin on the Lichen Ledge Trail and Whitecap Cliffs Trail. When complete, these trails will connect the Bingham Cascades Trail and the Summit Ridge Trail to the Summit Traverse on Barker Mountain in the Sunday River Resort. This great new hiking loop will total about 9 miles and open up access to trails at the ski area.

According to the Inland Woods + Trails website, “the Bethel Community Forest and Bingham Forest are enormous puzzle pieces in IW+T’s mission to create a 3,600-acre tapestry of conserved land to connect the communities of Bethel and beyond with the peaks of Sunday River … via a traditional hiking trail, single-track bike trail, multiple use double-track trail or snowmobile trail.”

But wait, there’s more – a lot more – to this trail building tear that Inland Woods + Trails is on.

The Bethel Community Forest West, is, well, a few miles west of the Bethel Community and Bingham Forests. Currently held by The Conservation Fund, Inland Woods + Trails is expected to take ownership of the 532-acre parcel this fall. In anticipation of this, Inland Woods + Trails has built a 3-mile hiking loop that leads to three wonderful viewpoints: The Prow, Porcupine Panorama and Ellingwood Ledges.

“We completed those trails in about 10 days last summer. And they’re just a preview. There’s more to come,” noted Perkins. “We’re focused on creating family-friendly trail experiences. We want to take you somewhere interesting, some place close to town that can be reached by easy footpaths and answers the question, ‘What can I do in two hours?’”

Expanding their work to neighboring communities, Inland Woods + Trails built out an informal trail on Mystery Mountain in nearby Rumford Point, which leads to a lovely clifftop view over the winding Androscoggin River. And work is in progress to connect the Mt. Abram ski area in Greenwood to Bethel via 7 miles of woods roads. Wow!

This fall, grab your day pack and head for Bethel to enjoy some quality time meandering the many colorful wooded ways of Inland Woods + Trails. Then plan to come back after the snow flies for some great cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on their winter trails system. Discover more at woodsandtrails.org.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is an award-winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His latest book, “Beer Hiking New England,” will be available in February. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

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