• Spring in Androscoggin Riverlands

    The joy of an early season run!

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It's spring in Maine and the end of mud season, depending on how far north you live. I'm far enough up in the foothills that the lower trails in community, like the Whistle Stop and the Powderhouse Hill Trails are dry enough for adventures, but our local ski hill and anything north of here is still icy or drying out. 

I love Powderhouse Hill (I'm even on the board of directors) but I've been putting a lot of long miles on the road while the trails firm up and I needed something that felt like more of an adventure. Powderhouse Hill is so accessible for a pre-work run, but on a Saturday with no other plans, I wanted something with the opportunity to make one long loop instead of several short ones. It's tough to beat the early season conditions at Androscoggin Riverlands State Park

Any time I get to run in Riverlands, it's a homecoming for me. I used to live a couple of miles from the north entrance, when the public was welcome on the land but the state had not yet formalized it as a state park. It's where I became a trail runner. Riverlands features 12 miles of shoreline along the Androscoggin. It used to be homesteads and farmland, but when the Gulf Island Dam was built in the 1920's, the impoundment flooded these properties. Now, there is a central ATV/snowmobile trail running the length of the park with sweet single track on either side.

There is, however, one major catch: you cannot run the entire length of the Deer Trail due to boundary disputes with an abutting landowner. This information is not posted on the online maps or at the welcome kiosk. I found this out near the end of my run when I hit a line of fresh boundary blazes and a "No Trespassing" sign. I'm thankful that I have the endurance to turn around and add the additional 2 miles that it took me to backtrack to an open trail. For an adventurer nearing the limit of their stamina, this would be a serious problem. I've suggested some signs to the park management, but they were not yet posted when I took another run a couple weeks later. 

However, the design of the network still allows for a long run with minimal trail repetition. My second visit, I parked at the north entrance and headed out Homestead Trail to the ATV corridor. From there I continued south along that and the Bradford Loop to the southern end of Deer Trail. At the junction for Deer Extension I took that trail up to the Ridge Trail and then followed that back north to the ATV  trail, which I ran back to my car. 

The only folks I saw were one mountain biker and a couple in a canoe. This makes a fairly accessible trail network feel more wild, and the spring conditions further emphasized that. In Maine, in early spring, there is no dirt ribbon to follow through the green foliage. EVERYTHING is brown and most of it is covered with leaf litter from the fall. Part of the adventure was wayfinding in those early conditions on a trail that hadn't yet seen much traffic. It's a fun challenge to my situational awareness, finding faded blazes on trees or feeling the difference in tread conditions in the moments I stepped off the trail. The day after my run, some volunteers with CeMeNemba leaf-blowed the trails which would have made my run faster but far less adventurous. Besides, I'll admit that the fact that the purple blazes on Deer Extension are difficult to spot, especially on hemlocks, gave me a great excuse to rest a couple of times during the climb up to the ridge. 

If navigation is intimidating to you, the ATV corridor is enough fun to run  on and a full out-and-back on clocks in at just over 18 miles. Turning around at Mower Landing gives you a nice eight if you want something long enough but not too long, and the spur down to the landing adds another old homestead to your trip. Otherwise, follow what the mountain bikers are saying--once the trails are leaf-blown, it's super easy to make your way through the trail network. 

I appreciate Androscoggin Riverland for both the scope of the network and the fact that it dries out earlier in the season. If you're looking to put on some early-season mileage, it's a great place to explore.



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