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Diversifying Trail Offerings in Maine

Diversifying Trail Offerings in Maine

Partnerships Craft the 7 Ponds Preserve

Posted: May 23, 2024
IMBA Trail Solutions Planner Liz Grades overlooks a ridge view in Monson, Maine.

At the edge of the famed 100-Mile Wilderness in Northern Piscataquis County, sits Monson, Maine.

Just a little over two hours southeast of Patten (which features a newer trail system we penned about in March), Monson is home to a remote, 10,000-acre site that will be the future home of an extensive trail network. In fact, 5.5 miles of trails are already field-designed; 1.5 of which are poised for construction by IMBA Trail Solutions in early July of this year (2024).

Like much of Maine, Piscataquis County has a large-acreage-to-small population ratio. Dominated by unorganized territory and working forests, this county, the second largest in acreage on the East Coast, is home to just over 16,000 year-round residents, making it Maine’s least populous. But, it is one of the more famous in the state. Piscataquis County is also home to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (the AT), Katahdin, which has drawn a population of thru-hikers for decades.

The AT and its various side trails, however, are limiting to both local and visiting users given how steep, primitive, and difficult most segments are. The elevation relief, remote rugged forests, scenic views, and rocky open slabs are terrain types not typically accessible by bike in the northeast. Maine, overall, is looking to retain population and attract new visitors to the state, i.e. newer trail usership and cyclists.

Elliotsville Foundation, Inc. partnered with IMBA Trail Solutions and Aaron Frederick Consulting Services to assist in community engagement, trails planning, and a conservation economic study focusing on their 7 Ponds Preserve property. Given those population/acreage ratios, creating a concept plan for such a large site, while also considering the target trail usership was a large and complex effort. Currently, the concept plan calls for 84 miles of trail and phase 1 of the 7 Ponds Preserve project is the chance to create a meaningful and enjoyable low-impact trail network aimed at simply getting people outside and active whether they hike, bike, run, snowshoe, or fat bike.

“The final plan calls for a lot of miles across multiple zones that offer everything from beginner accessible short and easy loops to remote, primitive, difficult singletrack that may offer camping options,” said lead designer on the project and Outdoor Sport Institute Assistant Director (and former IMBA Trail Solutions Project Manager) Steve Kasacek. With the area already boasting the natural draw of the AT and the Moosehead Lake region, Elliotsville Foundation Inc. feels confident in the investment in this trail infrastructure. “7 Ponds Preserve will allow for natural resource preservation while encouraging economic development through people-powered outdoor recreation,” said Susan Adams, Recreation Manager for the Elliotsville Foundation Inc. (EFI).

And because the future site for 7 Ponds Preserve is massive, there is a wide variety of terrain throughout – idyllic for a proposed progressive trail system. This proposed destination-worthy trail system will feature both front and backcountry recreation options, woven between the towns of Monson, Shirley, Guilford and Greenville. Given the destination potential of 7 Ponds, the first design/construction phase aims to create very high-quality trail. “That means designing trails that work the best, not just the easiest to build,” said Steve. It also means designing trails with progression in mind. The target of that progression is welcoming to beginners but also keeps in mind ridership with more skill, as well. “We need trails that families can ride where mom and dad can hit fun side hits and kids can aspire to (or school) their parents,” Steve added.

Come July of 2024, IMBA Trail Solutions will have a build team on the ground at 7 Ponds, crafting 1.5 miles of the 5.5 designed. This initial loop will parallel an access road so folks can use the trail to do small loop walks with the road, if they’re tenting at the nearby primitive sites EFI provides, they can use the trail to get to the latrine (and skip the road), or they can do a full loop hiking, running, or biking. It ties into an existing popular trailhead for the Little Wilson Trail, meaning it’ll be visible to existing visitors.

More updates from these new trail developments in The Pine Tree State will be coming soon!

About the author
Liz Chrisman portrait

Liz (she/her) grew up pedaling a garage sale 10-speed on the dirt roads of the Arkansas River Valley and on tarmac throughout college. While finishing her master's program, a coworker handed her a rigid Gary Fisher, drove into the Ouachitas and they conquered mileage on the IMBA EPIC Womble…

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