CHINA — As he walked along a deeply rutted access road in Thurston Park, Bill Seekins spotted deer and partridge tracks.

He spoke of moose and a goshawk — a large raptor that preys on partridge. He picked up beer cans and an old coffee cup as he mentioned the wide array of people who use the 390 acres, a corner of which marks the meeting place of China, Albion and Palermo.

He outlined his vision that someday school buses and cars will be able to navigate the now deeply rutted Yorktown Road so they can reach a parking area at the trailhead.

“We have an awful lot of work to do,” said Seekins, a retired state Department of Agriculture employee who heads the Thurston Park Committee. “The access road is the biggest issue. It’s not passable by passenger car.”

To help raise money to fix the access road, the Thurston Park Committee came up with a creative fundraising idea. They are giving nature lovers a rare opportunity to show their devotion to the outdoors by offering an online naming contest for two trails and four massive trees.

For a minimum bid of $1,000, entrants can get a chance to name a trail after themselves — or someone else. One roughly east-west trail links Yorktown Road and Monument Trail and is about 3,500 feet long. The other runs north-south, also linking Yorktown Road and Monument Trail, and is about 3,000 feet long.

Like to spend a little less?

For a minimum bid of $300, you can name one of four big pine trees in the park, the largest of which is 174 inches in circumference.

“If somebody wins the naming rights of the trail, it’s going to be around for a very long time,” said Judy Stone, a Colby College professor and Thurston Park Committee member. “It would be really nice to go and sit under the tree and think of that person.”

Stone, who teaches forest ecology at Colby, said a survey of town residents in 2010 showed that many people wanted a place to hike. Current plans for the park call for a multi-use trail system, with nonmotorized use on the western side and motorized recreation on the eastern side, she said.

“Most people in the town valued being able to take a walk in a place with bigger trees,” she said.

As it is now, most people can’t get to the park.

Snowmobilers, all-terrain vehicle riders, skiers and geocachers use it now, but Seekins and the committee want to make it accessible to a broader range of people.

“Once there’s road access with a parking area, it would become a lovely place for people to go,” said Joann Austin, a China selectwoman and Thurston Park Committee member.

Parts of the park date to 1879, when the town acquired the first parcel because of nonpayment of taxes, according to a committee report submitted to the town. A large chunk was donated to the town in 1958 by Everett Thurston, specifically with the directive that the area be used by China residents for recreation. At the 1975 Town Meeting, the area was designated as a park, Seekins said.

Cellar holes that date to the early 1800s are still on the property, which once also had a shingle mill owned by the Talbot family. The Talbots were one of the early African-American families who settled in China. Gerald Talbot, the first African-American to serve in the Legislature, is a descendant of the family, Seekins said.

The park also was once home to an ice cutting operation in the 1950s, and the large stone dam on Yorktown Brook on the north end is still there, he said. Some families tried to farm the area, and another operated a sawmill.

Seekins said he hopes to get the National Guard to help improve the access road, noting that the committee already has received money to pay for trail repair. The committee has ordered signs, and Seekins envisions a large parking area at the north trail head that will accommodate school buses and an area for picnic tables and a kiosk.

“You have to take baby steps,” he said.

More information about the auction is available on the town website, Bids should be emailed to Judy Stone ([email protected]). Bidding will close June 30.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
[email protected]

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