Twelve-year-old John Thorpe skipped along the Kennebec River trail with his father, Thomas, until the bald eagle’s nest came into view.

“She’s up there. There are two eagles up there,” the boy said.

The Thorpes were among 15 people hiking the East Kennebec Trail in Winslow and Rotary Centennial Trail in both that town and Benton on Saturday in honor of National Trails Day.

They watched as a mother eagle sat in the nest with her babies, high up in a pine tree. The father eagle was in a nearby pine, ostensibly watching for fish in the Kennebec River.

The hikers met at 9 a.m. at the Fairfield Community Center parking lot across the Kennebec, walked across the bridges to Crummett Street in Benton and entered the Rotary trail to head south along the river. They hiked about 5 miles into Winslow, past the trail head for the East Kennebec Trail to the eagle’s nest, turned around and hiked back to the Fairfield lot, arriving after 11 a.m., more than two hours later.

Peter Garrett, past president and one of the founders of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, explained to John Thorpe and his father, who frequently walk the Rotary Trail, that it was built in 2004 and opened the next year. It was the first trail in a network of more than 40 miles in the system, he said. Built over a former railroad bed, the trail is 12 feet wide and its surface is packed gravel, appropriate for walking, biking and wheelchairs.

“There are 11 trails coming down to it from the east and 11 other trails that go to the river,” Garrett said.

A fifth-grader at Winslow Elementary School, John Thorpe appeared fascinated by Garrett’s tutorial about the trees and wildlife along the trail. Garrett said most of the trees are native and include red oak, birch, maple, ash, hemlock, poplar and pine.

“How many of these trees do you know?” he asked John Thorpe. “Could you recognize a red oak?”

Garrett showed him the red lines marking the bark of the tree. He also pointed out cherry trees, distinguishable by their odd, flaky bark.

While the hike started in the rain, as the group moved toward Winslow, the sun came out and the air became dry.

Red-winged blackbirds flitted and chattered away in an open field, frogs croaked in a nearby bog and chipmunks scurried across the trail.

Earlier, Rene Burdet, one of the founders of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails who has planned trails since 1975, marched along the Rotary trail with the Thorpes and Garrett. Burdet said the trail is of high quality.

“As you can see, there’s not a problem on it — no wet spots, no failing bridges, no weeds on the trail,” said Burdet, a Belgrade resident who teaches blind people to ski in winter as part of Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation.

Tina Richard, a photographer for the trails group, said she has photographed not only the eagles, but also turtles and other wildlife, and the photos are available on Kennebec Messalonskee Trails’ Facebook page.

Trails board member Edwina Ducker said the group is applying to Americorps to try to get a team of volunteers to come from August to November to help work on the trails — to do maintenance and to extend the system. If the application is approved, the trails group hopes to get about a dozen Americorps workers ages 21 to 25 who would stay at the China Convention Center initially and then at Camp Tracy on McGrath Pond. Both of those entities have donated space for the volunteers, according to Ducker.

“We have an intern from Unity College, Devon Kaine, writing the grant, and she will supervise the team,” she said. “And we’ll be putting them to work.”

Ducker said Kennebec Messalonskee Trails also is looking for area agencies that might need the services of the Americorps team.

Jackie Dalton, secretary of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, said she and her husband, John, who is president of Inland Hospital, often bring relatives from Massachusetts to the trails.

“We live close to here, so we’ll come down here quite often, just to see if the eagles are here,” she said while on the Winslow end of the trails.

Ash Hekmat, the new president of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, said the walk Saturday was a great success, it was good to have people in the community join the activity, and the weather decided to cooperate.

“It just shows you you can never tell about the weather in Maine,” he said.

Hekmat was 80 pounds heavier than he is now before he started walking and lost the weight over a period of a year in 2010, he said. He started hiking trails in 2011 and has hiked more than 11,000 miles.

Hekmat, 36, of Winslow, walks every day and averages 40 miles a week, he said.

At the start of the hike Saturday, Garrett read aloud letters from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whom he had invited to the event, though they were unable to attend. He also read a document from Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, proclaiming Saturday Waterville Trails day as part of National Trails Day.

Fairfield police Officer Shanna Blodgett escorted the hikers across the street downtown at the start of the walk.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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