The Androscoggin Riverlands State Park, little known but located just miles north of Lewiston-Auburn, is on exhibition this winter: Experts are hosting free guided hikes on park trails in February and March, offering a different and beautiful look at the new park in the “off” season.

The park was created in 2009, primarily from land owned by the state since the 1990s. It now comprises more than 2,500 acres of protected land running along the Androscoggin River in Turner and Leeds.

From a parking area off Center Bridge Road in Turner, about a 20-minute drive from Lewiston, visitors have access to roughly 15 miles of multi-use trails and eight miles of hiking trails through the river valley. However, “it’s still not very well known to the public,” said Jonathan Labonte, executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust.

On Saturday, Labonte and others participated in the first of three guided hikes through the new park this winter, sponsored by the Land Trust, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The free hikes are intended to introduce local residents to the well-preserved lands of the park, said Laura Keating, an Americorp environmental educator with the Department  of Conservation.

About 30 people turned out for Saturday’s hike; participants ranged from accomplished snowshoers to first-timers. “It’s a good way to get to know the trails” of the new park, said Steve Yenco of Lisbon Falls.

Pauline Moreau, who had recently been snowshoeing, said she preferred the terrain of the park’s trails. “I love going through the woods,” she said.

The park trails offer a variety of hiking terrains, as well as unique landscapes and features. Saturday’s hike was over the park’s Homestead Trail, a roughly two-mile loop running in part along an old town road. The Old River Road, as it was known, was in use more than 200 years ago, and hikers walking along it via the Homestead Trail can see the foundations and remains of homes and barns dating from the 19th century.

On Saturday’s hike, participants were treated to a historical trip down the Homestead Trail, led by Judy Marden of the Androscoggin Land Trust. Marden explained that this part of the park was once populated, but was abandoned after the construction of a dam upstream that flooded the area. She showed participants the foundations of homes, and pointed out the location of a graveyard now submerged in the Androscoggin River. Breaking away from the trail to show the hikers a snow-covered foundation, Marden offered some words of wisdom: “The neat thing about snowshoes is you don’t need a trail.”

Flo Roberts and Claire Gamache, of Lewiston, were trying snowshoeing for the first time on Saturday. “We didn’t want to do Thorncrag (bird sanctuary in Lewiston) because it was too hilly,” said Gamache, and although there are some hilly sections, the two friends seemed to have found a more accommodating hike along the Homestead Trail.

 “I think this is our new winter sport,” said Roberts.  

About 15 kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine-Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse also participated in the hike. Nine-year-old Makayla Irene Morin, of Auburn, said that she had been snowshoeing before, but liked the Homestead Trail and was excited to see the graveyard. 

Also on hand were several Department of Conservation workers, some helping to administer the guided hike and others out simply to enjoy the beauty of the park. Aaron Mathias, of Gardiner, who works in the DOC’s Outdoor Recreation Program, found out about the hike via email. “I came to help out and have fun,” he said. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

After the hike, refreshments were provided by Nezinscot Farm of Turner, the event sponsor.

“This is hopefully a way of getting people,” particularly in the metropolitan area of Lewiston-Auburn, “to connect to the natural land around them,” said Labonte on Saturday. From there, he said, people will start becoming more involved, asking questions and, hopefully, working to conserve more of the state’s undeveloped land.

Keating explained that the land now called Androscoggin Riverlands State Park has been used recreationally for decades. Under the administration of various state bodies and preservation organizations, the land was maintained and trails were developed. Now, however, the state will provide additional funding for the area’s continued preservation.

“We’re hoping to get our wooden sign (the official Maine state park sign that signals the entrance of all state parks) later in the year,” said Keating. “I think we should have a ribbon cutting.”

Nine-year-old Makayla Irene Morin, of Auburn, and other snowshoers make their way along Homestead Trail in Androscoggin Riverlands State Park.

The entrance to and parking for Androscoggin Riverlands State Park are located about a mile west of the Center Bridge, on Center Bridge Road, in Turner. The park is open to the public.

— On Saturday, Feb. 26, the second free guided hike will take place. Led by Mike Auger of the Androscoggin Land Trust, this event will focus on the vegetation within the park and how it provides food and shelter to animals.

— On Saturday, March 12, Joe Wiley, a biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, will lead the third guided hike, when he will show participants how animals survive in the park in the winter. Also on March 12, Jocelyn Hubbell of the Bureau of Parks and Land will present a hands-on activity for kids and families.

The hikes will take place roughly between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Those interested should meet at the park’s entrance at 10 a.m.

For groups interested in taking part, contact Laura Keating at (207) 557-0352 or [email protected]

Participants should call Keating ahead of time and let her know if they need snowshoes. A limited number are available.

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