Hiking in Maine: Transition to Hart Farm, a Holden-worthy attraction

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

Pocket Field Trail, the longest segment, makes a lollipop loop along the margin of large agricultural fields and what are known as “pocket fields” before entering the forest, while Middle Trail runs along the western edge of the smaller fields. Shelterwood Trail loops through a section of professionally logged timber. Finally, the Fields Pond Connector Trail connects the Holden Land Trust trails with 4 miles of trails on the adjacent 229-acre Fields Pond Audubon Center property.

Established in 2005, the Holden Land Trust is “committed to identifying and preserving wildlife habitat, scenic views, farmland, access to wetlands and working forests that are integral to the rural character of Holden, for the benefit of present and future generations,” according to the association’s website.

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

In 2011, HLT secured a conservation easement that protected the top of Hog Hill in the southeast corner of town, while keeping a close eye on the potential price of Hart Farm, a working farm that was owned by the family. Hart since the mid-1800s, but was now in decline. The 157-acre property included a house and barn, fields and forests, and that grand view.

Lo and behold, “the Hart family contacted us in 2016 to see if we would buy the farm,” said Kris Mangene Reid, chairman of the Trust. “That’s when we started fundraising and contacted the Maine Farmland Trust to get them involved.”

There are very few working farms left in the Bangor area and huge development pressures. Ultimately, Maine Farmland Trust bought the farming rights to the land to keep Hart Farm running, while HLT raised the rest of the money needed 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 network of trails, and while they added a new roof to the farm, cleared the land, and searched for the right farmer to buy it all, they also set to work developing the trails, erecting a gazebo at the trailhead and constructing a parking area.

“When we started walking around the property, we really discovered the true character of the place,” said John Bryant, Vice President of HLT. “The agricultural fields, the old rock walls, the hilly terrain, the ravines, the tall trees; everything was unique and beautiful.”

The HLT volunteers spent a lot of time marking the roads with flags and then coming back and adjusting here and there. Satisfied at last, the next step was to clear the land and swamp it. Then came the bog bridge to span the many wetlands. Using machined cedar stringers, 800 feet of bog bridge was installed in 2020, a monumental task that required many helpers.

“It got stacked up at Copeland Hill Road and we had to haul it all the way into the woods,” Bryant noted. “In the midst of the pandemic, this was our way of working. We called it our “outdoor gym”.

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

Working with their Audubon neighbors, the Lake Shore Trail along pretty Fields Pond was extended and the Beechwood Trail was built to connect to Hart Farm, giving hikers plenty of room to wander.

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

Aside from the agricultural and trail easements, the farm was sold in 2020 to a working couple who once again turned the place into a successful farming operation.

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

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

Find more information about 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 Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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