When I heard there was a new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant trail opening at the Pownalborough Courthouse in Dresden, I knew I wanted to check it out.

I’ve been highlighting Maine destinations that are worth the trip in this paper for a couple of years now, but unfortunately many of them aren’t accessible for everybody. Enjoyment of the outdoors is something that ties all of us together, and it’s vitally important we keep expanding access to Maine’s wonderful places.

So I was eager to see this new trail and when I arrived, I was delighted to find much more. This beautiful spot on the banks of the Kennebec River is a hidden treasure trove of hiking and history.

Located on Route 128 in Dresden – just 10 minutes from I-295 Exit 43 (Richmond/Litchfield) – the Pownalborough Courthouse is owned by the Lincoln County Historical Association and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The three-story building is the only pre-Revolutionary courthouse in Maine – a fine example of 18th-century New England architecture. The frame was erected in three days in 1761, and thanks to the efforts of the LCHA, the building is still standing 257 years later.

Across the road from the courthouse, LCHA’s system of hiking trails winds through 71 acres of woods. In addition to the 1,500-foot stretch that’s now ADA-compliant, there are a number of routes that offer a variety of more difficult terrain – 2.5 miles of trail altogether.

The wheelchair-accessible North Rim Ravine Trail begins at a small trailhead parking lot, where you’ll find a new information kiosk and handicap parking spot. The newly expanded trail is wider, with only the slightest grades and a surface of hard-packed gravel. An out-and-back trip on this improved section of trail is a little more than half a mile and takes you deep into the heart of the woods.

Heading east, the trail quickly leaves the fields next to the road and enters a rich forest of oak and pine. The trail is a gorgeous bit of craftsmanship, combining form and function; the wide, gray path complements the forest floor nicely. The tall and stately old trees completely envelop you from the outside world, while the sun dapples the trail with bits of light. A short way down the path, a small resting spot gives a nice view over the ravine.

After about 700 feet, the path turns sharply to the right, joining the Hardwood Slope Trail. Here it runs along an old stone wall with a steep slope of pine and birch just to the east. Don’t be surprised if you see chipmunks and squirrels darting in and out of the piled stones, or if you hear them calling out a greeting. The packed gravel comes to an end at the Kennebec Courthouse trail.

To the east, the rest of the trail network offers steeper, more challenging hiking. I recommend continuing up the Hardwood Slope Trail to the top of the ridge and following the South Rim Ravine Trail, where you’ll encounter red pine, yellow birch and hemlock trees; ladyslippers and a dense glade of ferns; and a number of small, sturdy bridges criss-crossing the stream at the bottom of the ravine. While these trails are a little harder to follow than the wide gravel path, they are well-blazed, and any route will loop around to lead you west toward the courthouse again.

The Kennebec Courthouse Trail is a nice ramble through eastern white pines and verdant ferns, following a small stream before depositing you back at Route 128. After crossing the road, the trail continues up a steep rise to the Goodwin Cemetery, the plot of the family that initially managed the courthouse. The cemetery no longer has a view of the Kennebec River, but the plot itself is a sight with dozens of beautiful headstones and markers.

The Courthouse Trail continues down to the banks of the Kennebec, where it runs along the water for nearly 800 feet. I believe a family of eagles has taken up residence in the tall trees; I saw one wheeling away as I made my way back up to the courthouse.

I came for the trails but the grounds of the Pownalborough Courthouse are certainly a fascinating destination in their own right. The wide green lawn has benches for enjoying the breeze from the river, and a period garden – a collaboration between the LCHA and the Garden Club of Wiscasset – contains more than 20 flowers and herbs that would have been planted in the late 18th century. You can explore the courthouse for $5 (children under 16 are free), and get a closer look at the court, the justices’ chambers, the ice house, the tavern and more, including a number of historical artifacts.

The Pownalborough Courthouse is a wonderful place to spend the day, and increased access provided by trail improvements makes it even better. While creating ADA-compliant “universal-access” trails at outdoor destinations is challenging, I hope more organizations and land trusts will find ways to meet the need. Beautiful and historic Maine places deserve to be shared.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

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