Located midway between Augusta and Bangor on the Kennebec River, the city of Waterville is many things.

It was an early trade and industry port for Maine, it’s an education center (home to Colby and Thomas Colleges), and it’s a city in transition thanks to recent investment in its downtown. Passing through on my way to my college dormitory at UMaine-Farmington, the slopes of Sugarloaf, and hiking and rafting in The Forks, I thought of Waterville as a gateway to Maine’s western mountains. One thing I never thought of it as, however, was a spot for outdoor recreation.

A bit of investigation showed me that, like Augusta (which I wrote about earlier this year), there are myriad trails and outdoor spaces to explore in the Waterville area. Thanks to municipal investment, involvement from the aforementioned educational institutions, and hard work from nonprofits, there’s an impressive network of trails in Waterville, Winslow and Fairfield.

My trip to Waterville was inspired by the RiverWalk at Head of Falls, a new park located on the banks of the Kennebec just above Ticonic Falls. The RiverWalk, just a block from Waterville’s Main Street, spans 2,200 feet. Vacant since the Wyandotte Mill and surrounding buildings were burned down in the 1970s (in the name of urban renewal), the 14-acre plot now hosts a paved walkway, gazebo, amphitheater and public art. After a three-year campaign to develop the park – kicked off by a grant of $150,000 from the Waterville Rotary Club in August 2015 – the RiverWalk finally opened to the public in mid-September. A ribbon-cutting ceremony with Sen. George Mitchell took place Oct. 6.

Also of note for visitors is the Two Cent Bridge, located at the entrance to the park on its south end. The bridge, which spans the Kennebec, is reported to be the longest and oldest pedestrian suspension bridge (and last surviving toll footbridge) in the United States, and connects Waterville to Winslow. On the Winslow side, visitors can walk a paved footpath to the Winslow Community Trails and, beyond there, the East Kennebec Trail.

While the RiverWalk was the inspiration for my visit, I found myself spending much more time at Quarry Road Recreation Area, more than 200 acres of land owned by the city and managed by the Parks and Rec Department. Accessible via Quarry Road (between Main Street and the Colby campus), a short drive passing under I-95 leads to a network of trails, used for hiking and biking during the summer, and skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. The area has a long history of recreation, starting in the 1930s when it began as a small ski area, complete with tow rope. After WWII, both Colby Outing Club and Colby College took turns running the ski slope before it closed in the 70s. About a decade ago, volunteers teamed up with the city to redevelop the area.

Now, a massive trail network spans the land around Quarry Road. The Sheave Train, Half Hitch and Bullwheel Trails climb steeply on the land where the Colby Ski Area used to be (you can still see towers from the old lift). The Riverside Loop meanders along the Messalonskee Stream and the Devil’s Chair trail leads to the dramatic stone bluff that gives it its name. The Charlie’s Loop trails weave through a meadow beyond the Yurt at the end of Quarry Road, and to the north, popular doubletrack trails Wally’s Way, North Koons and South Koons cut into the woods. Many of the trails are used for cross-country skiing during the winter and were laid out by two-time Olympian John Morton. Trail access is free to hikers and bikers during the summer, and there’s a small day-ticket fee for access to the groomed Nordic ski trails during the winter.

Along with the trails, the Susan Child Boat Launch provides water access to Messalonskee Stream. The boat launch provides hand-carry access from Quarry Road Recreation Area, so it’s accessible to canoes, kayaks and other small craft. Despite being on a stream, the surrounding paddling is almost all flatwater.

Thick woods between Thomas College, the Northern Light Inland Hospital and LaFleur Airport hide more than seven miles of interconnected trails. The Inland Woods Trail, a short mile-long loop accessible from behind the Inland Hospital, is a mix of mulched and natural surfaces, and includes a 24-foot pedestrian bridge constructed by the Maine Conservation Corps. From this trail a number of spurs spin off, a mix of single-track mountain bike trails and old tote roads. With about a dozen trail intersections, it’s a complex network spread over nearly 150 acres; Kennebec Messalonskee Trails calls it “one of central Maine’s most beautiful and surprisingly untouched natural areas.”

The colleges have been a boon for those looking to explore the outdoors, with trail networks developed at Thomas, Colby and Kennebec Valley Community College. At Thomas, a half-mile trail climbs steeply from the campus soccer field, crossing bridges and wooden planks, and climbing stone stairs to a stunning view of the Kennebec River and Messalonskee Stream. At Colby a nearly eight-mile network of mixed-use trails surrounds the campus. To the north in Fairfield, the mile-long KVCC Walking Trail runs through the grassy fields on the north end of campus. Bordered by I-95 and nearby Western Avenue, it’s not the most remote trail, but the pleasant grassy paths are a nice change of pace.

Much of the work and vision around the trails in the Waterville area can be credited to the nonprofit Kennebec Messalonskee Trails. Incorporated in 2003, KMTrails has a mission to “promote, create, and help maintain recreation and fitness trails and a bicycle-pedestrian-friendly community throughout the City and Towns of Waterville, Winslow, Benton, Fairfield, and Oakland.” You can find a trail map and guide of 18 trails in these towns (including those mentioned in this article) at kmtrails.com. The site also lists ways that individuals and groups can support these local trails, including donations and volunteer opportunities.

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

[email protected]

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