Living within four miles of the Atlantic Ocean, Hannah and I sometimes don’t go to the rugged Maine coast for months. Losers? I think not. Busy lives? Not really? We take it for granted? Bingo! We also neglect another outdoor treasure in our backyard: the trails of Mount Agamenticus just four miles from home.
Mount A, as the locals refer to it, covers some 30, 000 acres here in southern Maine. At 691 feet it has views of the White Mountains to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. From Portland, Maine to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, there is no higher elevation this close to the ocean than Mount Agamenticus.
From I-95, go inland at exit 7 in York. Take a right (north) at the park n’ ride on Chases Pond Road (CPR). After 1.7 miles you’ll pass our United Nations flag and “Hannah’s Loft” bread board from a time gone by when Hannah ran a two-room bed and breakfast. Continue north on CPR for two miles, then make a left (inland) on Mountain Road for two and a half miles to the base of the mountain with trailhead parking.
With new signage and trail construction, York Parks and Recreation has made the trails around Mount Agamenticus a magnet for families and causal hikers alike. Let’s be clear – at under 700 feet high, it’s not Mt. Katahdin or Camel’s Hump, but it is worth getting off the couch for a forest green afternoon. On this Labor Day Saturday with many hikers taking to the trails, there is a joyous festive feel in the air.
While there is a steep road to the top with two hairpin turns for those driving, the well-marked Ring Trail provides hikers with a gentle hike in a thick forest; be they families, those seeking a good hour long work out, or those AARP types among us. Though mountain bikers use these trails, there are none in evidence today.
Under the canopy of oaks, pines, and beeches, the trail is rocky but not a strenuous climb at all. With our Canadian friend Bill Buggie we soon cross back over the Summit Road along a rocky trail with exposed roots. Bill is an affable guy who says “Yes” to life. As an education consultant to Bhutan in the Himalayas and one who has walked The Camino in Spain, he is often up for hiking adventures with us.
Within minutes we turn right at the junction of the Blueberry Trail to the Summit (rather than continue on the Ring Trail that, well, rings the mountain). The Blueberry Trail is a red blaze steady climb of a few hundred feet to the mountain top, cleared with some controversy in the early winter of 2012.
Thanks to a tree clearing initiative supported by the major nature preservation organizations in the area to return the summit to its 1960s self, we have unobstructed 360 degree views. With the summit trees logged, shrubs and undergrowth flourish and grow a habitat for wildlife that had long since disappeared under the towering pines. Thanks to the selective clear cutting at the summit the views towards Mount Washington, Portsmouth, out to the Atlantic, or north to Kennebunk are views similar to those one would have seen fifty years ago.
At the top, the grassy terrain is suitable for picnics and recreation. Our daughter Robyn took horse riding lessons here in the early 1990s. With my team of teachers from Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, I brought 80 7th graders here for an outdoor hiking experience.
Once a ski resort in the late 60s/early 70s, Mount Agamenticus had a chairlift, T-bar, and three trails for skiing with a 500 feet of vertical drop. Trying to make a go of coastal skiing, entrepreneurs added snowmaking and tried night skiing; there was a ski shop and summit lodge. The price was right as adults were charged $4 on week days with a season pass costing $60. Unfortunately, inconsistent snow and a snowmaking system compromised by salty sea breezes led to the closing of the skiing dreams of locals.
Compromising the view, only if you let it, are a dilapidated fire tower with no access for the public and the ubiquitous cell phone towers. Urban legend has it that a “praying Indian” (St. Aspinquid of the 1600s) was buried on Mount A. There is little evidence that this is actually true.
After a climb of 25 minutes and checking the views to the ocean and the mountains, we choose the Sweet Fern Trail to descend, which shortly connects to the Ring Trail. Families with the kids’ youthful energy makes all seems right with the world. The system of trails around Mount Agamenticus allows visitors two to three hours of hiking adventures.
And how sweet it is that after a late afternoon hike for an hour, we have but a fifteen minute drive home sweet home.