OTISFIELD — For the past eight years, a group of dedicated Otisfield residents have gathered every Friday at the Community Hall on Route 121 where they carpool to sites for 60 to 90-minute walks to see sights and socialize.

Friday Walkers from Otisfield explore Pondicherry Park in Bridgton during the 2019 foliage season. Submitted photo

Walkers receive a walking report ahead of time on the destination, its terrain and a weather report so they can dress appropriately.

Otisfield’s Friday Walkers was born from a 2011 needs assessment, sponsored by the town, members of East Otisfield Free Baptist Church and several residents. Living in a rural community, residents reported a sense of isolation.

“People felt like they didn’t know each other, and this seemed like an easy way to remedy that,” Maureen Howard, group trailblazer/coordinator, said.

The trailhead at Virgil Parris Forrest, Buckfield. Submitted photo

Jean Hankins, also known as Otisfield’s unofficial town historian, offered to organize the walking group in 2012 and for two years dutifully planned and communicated activities to participants before delegating the responsibility to Howard.

“I had heard about it but wasn’t ever able to go because I worked on Fridays,” Howard said. “When I retired I asked to join and Jean immediately promoted me to trailblazer. So it became my responsibility to maintain the master list of destinations, assess the grade and difficulty, distance and time to make a loop, and make note of the trailhead and any remarkable details.

“Luckily, Jean kept meticulous records,” Howard said. “And she knows not just every discontinued town road in Otisfield, but where they lead and what there is to see.”

In the early days, Friday walks were a seasonal affair. But members have become so dedicated to the excursions that they walk year-round, weather permitting. Dec. 20 was forecast to be single-digit temps so Howard redirected the outing to Café Nomad in Norway for coffee and muffins.

Narramissic Park in Bridgton. Submitted photo

Howard tries to pick trails where walkers can make a loop rather than a trek in and out. She maintains a collection of brochures, maps, guides and gazetteers. “I’m always on the lookout for new trails to try,” she said.

“In winter we all bring our snowshoes,” Elaine Doble-Verrill said. “But if we take a groomed snowmobile trail we don’t usually need them.”

“We tend to limit the distance to about two miles,” Howard explained. “I shoot for 60 to 90 minutes and we maintain a casual pace. We’re more out to ‘stop and smell the roses’ than attempt a cardio challenge. We like to take in the sights.

“Walking discontinued roads, we come across lots of abandoned farms,” she said. “The woods are full of stonewalls. We follow waterways and lake shores.”

Decker Mill in the Jugtown Forest. Submitted photo

Walkers have covered most of the trails in surrounding communities. A popular site to visit is Jugtown Forest, a 5,000-acre woodlot owned and worked by Hancock Lumber in Otisfield, Casco and Naples. Jugtown was a village originally settled in the 1830s around a mill built on the Crooked River. Its name comes from a myriad of jug remnants, apparently shooting targets of a long since departed resident.

Land trust properties are favored spots. Sometimes the group visits state parks. They have carpooled as far as New Gloucester’s Pineland Farms and Pondicherry Park and the Narramissic quarry on the grounds of 1797’s Peabody-Fitch Farm, both in Bridgton.

Each Friday the group includes as many as 15 walkers and a few dogs. According to Howard, member Alana Grover is the record-holder of note, estimated to have walked every mile of every old road in Otisfield.

Residents interested in joining the Friday Walkers may email Howard at [email protected] to be added to the contact list.

Peabody-Fitch House in Bridgton. Submitted photo

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