From Hart Farm on the slopes of Copeland Hill in Holden, there’s a lovely northwesterly view over the broad valley of the Penobscot River and far beyond, to the mountains along the Appalachian Trail corridor, from Barren to White Cap to Katahdin. The old farmstead is the site of an ambitious conservation project undertaken by the Holden Land Trust, which has built a 3 1/2-mile network of hiking trails for year-round enjoyment.

Pocket Field Trail, the longest segment, makes a lollipop loop along the margin of the large farm fields and what are known as the “pocket fields” before entering the forest, while Middle Trail runs along the west edge of the smaller fields. Shelterwood Trail makes a circuit through a professionally harvested section of woodlands. Finally, Fields Pond Connector Trail links the Holden Land Trust trails to 4 miles of footpaths on the adjacent 229-acre Fields Pond Audubon Center property.

Established in 2005, the Holden Land Trust “is committed to the identification and preservation of wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, agricultural lands, wetland access and working forests integral to the rural character of Holden, for the benefit of current and future generations,” according to the non-profit’s website.

The Holden Land Trust Trails at Hart Farm are open to the public year-round. Photo by Carey Kish

By 2011, HLT had secured a conservation easement that protected the summit of Hog Hill in the southeast corner of town, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the potential prize of Hart Farm, a working farm that had been in the Hart family since the mid-1800s but was now in decline. The 157-acre property featured a house and barn, fields and forests, and that big vista.

Lo and behold, “the Hart family approached us in 2016 to see if we would buy the farm,” said Kris Mangene Reid, the Trust’s president. “That’s when we began raising money and contacted the Maine Farmland Trust to get them involved.”

There are precious few working farms remaining in the Bangor region and huge development pressures. As it worked out, Maine Farmland Trust bought the agricultural rights to the land to keep Hart Farm in working condition, while HLT raised the rest of the necessary cash to complete the purchase. And with that, Hart Farm became an official “Forever Farm” in 2018.

As part of the deal, HLT retained an easement that allowed for a trail network, and while they added a new roof to the farmhouse, cleaned up the grounds and searched for just the right farmer to buy it all, they also got to work developing the trails, erecting a trailhead kiosk and building a parking area.

“When we began walking around the property, we really discovered the true character of the place,” said John Bryant, HLT’s vice president. “The farm fields, old rock walls, the hilly terrain, the ravines, the big trees; it was all unique and beautiful.”

HLT volunteers spent a lot of time marking the routes with flagging, then coming back again and adjusting here and there. Finally satisfied, the next step was to do the clearing and swamping. Then came the bog bridging to span the numerous wet areas. Using milled cedar stringers, 800 feet of bog bridging was installed in 2020, a monumental task that required many helpers.

“It was piled up at Copeland Hill Road and we had to haul it way down into the woods,” noted Bryant. “In the middle of the pandemic, it was our way of working out. We called it our ‘outdoor gym.’”

Holden Land Trust maintains more than 3 miles of color-coded hiking trails at Hart Farm. Photo by Carey Kish

Collaborating with their Audubon neighbors, Lake Shore Trail along pretty Fields Pond was extended and Beechwood Trail constructed to connect back to Hart Farm, giving hikers plenty of room to roam.

As if they didn’t already have their hands full, HLT also had a shelterwood cut – a type of timber harvest – done on a portion of the land as a forestry demonstration.

The agricultural and trail easements aside, the farm was sold in 2020 to a hardworking couple who have turned the place into a successful farming operation once again.

“We’re thrilled to have preserved a working farm,” said Bryant.

“We’ve worked hard as an all-volunteer organization,” added Reid, noting that the new “HLT Trails at Hart Farm” have become very popular.

Find more info on Holden Land Trust and a trail map on Facebook.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish


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