In praise of front-country trails

Pass under the train trestle, then past the dam.

The trail I hiked today started behind an old woolen mill (which burned down in January) and ended 2.5 miles later alongside a penstock just beyond a train trestle bridge and small dam (which warned repeatedly of death if I strayed off the metal walkway).

The short, five-mile, out-and-back hike may not have been the most primitive hiking route in Maine, but you know what? It was quite nice, especially as a spur of the moment hike with my toddler.

Chances are, the realities of your life don't allow you to head off into the backcountry every day or even every week for pristine wilderness experiences. If work, family, or other commitments never slow you down from pursuing your favorite outdoor activities, you can stop reading this now. For the rest of us, front-country trails can provide an extra taste of outdoor adventure on a regular, even daily, basis, whether it's for a short hike, a trail run, or a chance to stop and bird watch.

In a previous life (before children), I likely would have dismissed today's trail as not a "real" hike (not long enough, remote enough, high enough). I might not have decided to stop as I drove by the trailhead with a few hours to spare, and I would have missed the opportunity to get out and have a nice walk in the woods, just because.

Through the pine trees.

In addition to the mill and dam mentioned above, the trail I hiked today traveled alongside a beautiful large stream, through lovely tall pines trees, over small brooks, and near nesting ducks. It provided quiet, calm and escape, just a short walk from the center of town.

The outdoors is many things, including remote mountain peaks, forests, trails, and rivers — wild, natural places we love and need. Places I wish I could visit and be a part of more often than my schedule (and budget) allows.

But the outdoors also can be found closer to home — in parks, on nature trails, even backyards — if we choose to stop, find it, and see it. Because the outdoors should be accessible to everyone, every day, whether you're on a multi-week trek or a short walk in the woods on your way home from errands.

Filed under: Places


775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts
March 18, 2010 at 1:34 p.m. (EDT)

Excellent article, Alicia. Thanks for the reminder. I live in a place where I am surrounded by Nature, yet I very seldom just go for a walk of short hike near my home. Gotta' change that! Thanks

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155 forum posts
March 18, 2010 at 4:45 p.m. (EDT)

My childhood memories are filled with woods like this. Growing up in the 'burbs, I never knew there was a difference in my patch of woods down the street and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park until I got older. One was just a bigger patch of woods. All I knew was that I had some kind of yearning to be in my little woods and just be away from the rest of the world.

It's amazing to think of the things that fascinated me so much compared to now. It was a whole lot more simpler things. There was a stormwater drainage ditch that I imagined at one time used to be a roaring creek with a big waterfall at one end. Then there was a big thicket that I used to call Death Valley because there was no shade their except briar patches and in the summer if you got it in it you would burn up.

I even mapped out my woods and had names for all these places.

Now I've got some other woods I go to and take my family. Same kind of places like in the article. I just don't see them the same way like I used to. Maybe I should.

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415 forum posts
March 18, 2010 at 4:50 p.m. (EDT)

The Bay Area has so many of these kinds of trails that I could hardly ever justify the time and expense of driving four hours each way to the mountains to hike on backcountry trails.

The middle of N. Carolina has considerably fewer, which means I'll probably be doing a lot more driving this summer.

Basically I need some woods to walk in; the locale is secondary.

848 reviewer rep
3,897 forum posts
March 21, 2010 at 11:59 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the comments. Sometimes it just comes down to perspective. We also have a number of short, but far more rustic trails than this in my town. I can run from my house to the top of one and back and not think it's a big deal (it's only a few miles) because I do it every week, but others visiting the area regard the trail portion alone as a bonafide "Hike."

I think it's nice when you have different options for different people and schedules and your own mood. As Rocklion says, it can be especially powerful for kids to have natural places to explore. I remember doing the same as a kid, but I think we build up boundaries and labels about what is a hike or the outdoors as we get older (or at least I have, I'm working on expanding it again and getting rid of the labels).

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