The swoosh of skis, the crunch of snowshoes, the bleating of a lamb, the lick of a calf’s tongue. Take a trolley tour of Pineland Farms, including the Valley Farm and Equestrian Center. Milk a cow, look a horse in the eye, listen to the chaos of clucking in the chicken barn. Then join the Mardi Gras of color that’s the uniform of the outdoor lovers on the trails.

Visit the barns on the campus located in New Gloucester. If a barn can be immaculate, these are. The barns themselves are beautiful, but relax and enjoy the animals. You can actually milk a cow in the Valley Farm dairy barn and pat the calves in the calf barn, but beware, they do try to lick you! Watch the frisky lambs in the sheep barn; there were eight on our recent visit. You also can see the llamas. In the horse barn, we were impressed with the indoor riding facility of the therapeutic riding component of the Equestrian Center, and had fun with the names of the horses. The Dutch Warmblood horses are magnificent. Watch for the little filly. The chicken barn holds a few surprises, such as peacocks and a guinea hen.

The visitors center is the hub that keeps everything rolling along. Get your trail and tour tickets, check out the general store and gift shop for your maple syrup and more, stop at Foley’s Bakery, watch a film in the presentation room, sit awhile to enjoy the view of Mount Washington and snow-covered fields.

Taking center stage is the interactive scale model of the Pineland property encased in glass walls. Surrounding the diorama are descriptions of the buildings and special features of the 3,000-acre campus, including glimpses into the past, when Pineland once was the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded. Push the buttons to light up the highlights, such as the trail system.

The Libra Foundation has created a gift for the whole community, an amazing use of the campus for education and recreation by everyone. The setting is more than beautiful. Even among the bustle that comes about when you have a popular locale, people sit and soak in the views in the visitors center or enjoy the warming sun shining through the roof windows in the bakery dining area.

The visitors center building is on the main floor of Windham Hall. Downstairs you’ll find the outdoor center and a rental and retail shop operated by Gorham Bike and Ski. According to visitor center Director Scott Bevins, the diorama in the center is room-sized: It’s approximately 11 by 18 feet. The scale is 1 inch equals 50 feet. The visitors center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Trolley tours of the Pineland Farms campus are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. The cost for adults is $5; for seniors and juniors, $2; and children, 6 and under, are free.

Activities available include programs on nature, agriculture, the environment and recreation. Recent topics have included lectures on birds in the wintertime, owls of Maine, storytelling, and working clinics, such as working draft horses in the woods, spinning, and felting.

Winter is a wonderful time to enjoy the trails.

“There is just one-trail system, including the new trails on the opposite side of Route 231 from the campus,” Bevins said. The total length is approximately 25 kilometers. That one trail system is for walking in the late spring, summer and fall, and cross-country skiing in the winter. Snowshoeing and cross-country ski equipment is available for rent.

For instance, you can rent a pair of snowshoes for $12. There is a fascinating scale in the outdoor center that doesn’t give your weight, but tells what size snowshoe you require. The trail fee is $10 for adults for the day; a half-day is $6. The fee for students ages 9-17 and for seniors 55 and over is $6. Children age 8 and under are admitted free.

Year-round activities

Activities at Pineland include trail running, walking and hiking or trekking; orienteering; mountain biking; tennis; Nordic skiing and dry-land Nordic ski training; and outdoor ice-skating. Three of the walks are registered with Healthy Maine Walks. Consider taking along a nature pack, a kit in a backpack to have fun exploring nature. These include a variety of materials such as field guides and binoculars. My family has had the chance to use similar nature packs at the Laudholm Farm and thoroughly enjoyed the way the contents added to our day.

As of this writing, we still have snow. But we are on the edge of the next season, where any day the weather could get warmer and bring on mud season, putting an end to the snow sports. According to our guide, skating has already discontinued for the season due to the pond conditions. But do keep Pinelands in mind for next year, the skating pond looks lovely and with complimentary cookies and hot chocolate on Sundays, you can have fun getting warm after you skate. I certainly look forward to seeing the views from the trails in other seasons too. Just wear the proper footgear.

Personally, I cannot wait to see the expansive garden that has been added on the opposite side of Route 231 from the campus. Behind the white fence and under the soft mounds of snow lie 2,500 perennials and 400 trees and shrubs waiting for spring. The plants are identified with both Latin and common names. Thousands of annuals will be added to the enchanting display.

Note: Dressing for the weather is important since the location allows sweeping winds coming to bring winds across the fields. There can be a nip or bite to the air. Wear layers as you may feel cold starting out, but then warm up quickly while you exercise along the trails.

Pineland Farms has recently announced that its next endeavor will be a cheese factory. The location will be near Valley Farm. Bevins said that cheddar production may begin as early as fall, if all goes according to plan.

On-site bakery: Foley’s Bakery and Coffee House is inside the visitors center. It’s a popular spot to warm up with hot chocolate or coffee. Also available are breads, cakes and gourmet pastries. On our recent visit, eight different breads were on hand, ranging from farmers white bread to a garlic cheddar stuffed with pepperoni. Check the hours on the chalkboard in the visitors center when you arrive so you can schedule your coffee break accordingly. It carries delicious, generous-size goodies. The giant peanut-butter cookies and an orange pecan scone with a light icing were yummy, as was the farmers bread, which we took home. Bevins said the bakery’s business hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; it’s closed Sunday and Monday.

Food: Another spot to find something to eat is The Commons Cafeteria, which is open for breakfast and lunch. It’s located in the center of the campus. Hours are Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (207) 688-4681. Its menu is at www.pinelandfarms.org, along with other helpful information.

Getting there: Pineland Farms is at 15 Farm View Drive in New Gloucester. From the Lewiston-Auburn area, drive west on Route 202 (Washington Street) until a blinking light in New Gloucester indicates the intersection with Route 231. Turn left on Route 231, which is Intervale Road. In approximately six miles, Pineland Farms’ campus of brick buildings will be on your right. Signs direct you to the visitors center.

For more information or to make reservations, call (207) 688-4539 or check Pineland’s Web site.

Edith Churchill is a freelance writer living in Auburn who frequently takes day trips with her family.


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