For riders interested in learning more about the daily routes, we are providing a route digest for each day. This summary is a compilation of history, culture and trivia that Maine native Fred Frawley uncovered along the route, and environmental information prepared by Kate Dempsey of The Nature Conservancy. If there is something you discover in your travels along the route and think should be added to the digest, please submit your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dover-Foxcroft to Belfast
Much of today’s ride passes through a mosaic of forests and farmlands. Agricultural land contributes to a number of important elements supporting Maine’s character. It provides food, jobs, recreation – in fact it supports our rural communities in essential ways. It also provides important wildlife habitat especially for those species that need to travel long distances. Many farmland owners also own woodlots and river and stream corridors that provide places for wildlife to live and breed. When farmers keep the areas along their streams forested, the streams are buffered from agriculture run-off. Additionally, these forested areas often provide riparian travel corridors for stream-dependent species, like mink and otter.
In Maine, the amount of land in agriculture production has been declining steadily for a century. In recent decades the pace of housing and other development has accelerated the rate of farmland conversion. Only about 0.5% of Maine’s prime agricultural soils have been permanently protected for farming purposes. Today, land trusts across the state are working to find ways to slow the pace of farmland conversion. Land Trusts work with interested farmers to conserve their lands as farms forever.
Be sure to look over your shoulder when you crest the hill out of town and wave good-bye to Dover-Foxcroft, then head due south on a route that soon takes you on the Oliver Hill Road to Garland. You’ll pass the Garland Store in the heart of Garland, Maine. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts originally granted the township to Williams College, which sold it to a series of proprietors in 1798. It was originally called “Lincoln” after one of them, Levi Lincoln. In a history of Garland, published in the early 20th Century, the author wrote:
At the north the towering forms of Katahdin, Boarstone and Russell Mountains arrest attention, while, in restful contrast, the productive farms of the Piscataquis Valley, covered in summer with growing crops and grazing herds, present a scene of rural beauty which is seldom surpassed in central Maine.
Little has changed in 100 years. Garland is just east of Dexter, another of many mill towns in Maine in the last century, and the original home of Dexter Shoes.
Throughout Exeter, much like Garland, you will see farms and stands of forest. The next town,
Stetson, has fewer than 1,000 residents, and some commute (in the broad sense of the word) to Bangor or Orono. Pleasant Lake, located entirely within the town’s borders, is a scenic 798-acre lake known for its excellent fishing and clean water. Keep an eye out for the historic Stetson Meetinghouse, a spired structure with two columns in its center entryway. Located in the center village, this beautiful building continues to serve as a gathering place for town meetings, public functions and community dinners.
Etna is named for the famed Mount Etna in Italy, but was originally called Crosbytown, after its founder. Etna is also the home of Camp Etna, a summer colony where spiritualists have held yearly meetings since 1876. Here’s how the Bangor Whig and Courier newspaper described an early meeting:
Newport, Aug. 18- The Spiritualist annual camp meeting at the Etna campground commenced last Tuesday evening. Dr. Ware, of Bucksport, the Chairman, made a short address, followed by the lecture and poem by Miss Jennie B. Hagan. Wednesday there was an address by Mrs. Morse, of Searsport, poem by Miss Hagan. Thursday forenoon, there was a social meeting, invocation and remarks by Jennie B. Hagan, Miss Clark; and in the afternoon a lecture and reading by Prof. J. Frank Baxter, followed by a test meeting by the Professor. The meeting continues over Sunday and is largely attended. Eight hundred people were present the opening day.
Out of Etna you will cross over Interstate 95 via Route 143. I-95 runs from Florida to the Canadian border. It wasn’t until 1981 that the final section of Interstate 95, the stretch between Bangor and Houlton at the Canadian border, was turned into a four-lane highway.
Welcome to Dixmont. Like Garland and Etna, and the towns along the way today, Dixmont is an agricultural community and residence for those who work in the Bangor area.
As you pass through Dixmont, you will pass the Dixmont Mountain Cider Co., aka Maine-ly Apples, home to more than 1,650 trees boasting more than 40 different varieties. Dixmont Mountain Cider Co. began in 2000 when owners built a cider building and installed an apple brusher-washer and a new stainless steel press. Keep climbing and when you get to the top, look to your right for (on a clear day) a view of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
To the west of Dixmont lies an area called Unity Wetlands, where farm land protection has occurred thanks to the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust and others. Unity Wetlands is one of the largest remaining un-fragmented areas of natural land in central Maine and it is also one of Maine’s most productive dairy farm areas. Its protection offers a promising opportunity to keep freshwater and wetland fish and dragonflies healthy and also for maintaining the space that wide ranging species like black bear and bobcat need to thrive.
You are now biking along the Moosehead Trail, a hilly route that goes from Greenville (North of Dover-Foxcroft) all the way down to Penobscot Bay. The Trail leads into Brooks in Waldo County, where we will take a rest to allow you to recover from the roller coaster you are now getting off. Brooks has an active historic preservation effort and even offers group “rail-bike” rides on the tracks of the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railway. Rail-bikes are recumbent bikes that roll on the train tracks.
You can probably begin to sense in the air that open water is not far away. Those who want to get to it via the shortest route available can choose to take the alternate 13-mile route from Brooks to Belfast; otherwise, there are 19 miles left to go. Although there is a short-cut available, Morrill Village is worth the regular routing. Though times may have changed, consider the description of this lovely town in Varney’s “History of Morrill, Maine” published in 1886:
The climate of this town is regarded as quite healthful. There are four inhabitants past eighty years of age, and four between seventy and eighty. The Grange has a good building here, which is used as a town hall. There is a Methodist society in the town, and a Union meetinghouse at the village. The town has five public schoolhouses. The entire school property is valued at $2,500. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $133,099. In 1880 it was $122,098. The rate of taxation in the latter was for money tax, 42 mills on the dollar. The population in 1870 was 523. In 1880 it was 494.
Now, swing onto Poors Mill Road and get to the coast. Belfast is the end of this leg; it is a coastal village on Penobscot Bay. For many years, though, Belfast was a food-processing center. By the 1950s poultry, sardine and potato companies had set up processing plants along the waterfront. Belfast called itself the “Broiler Capital of the World” and each July thousands came to eat barbequed chicken on Broiler Day. Although the chicken farms have mostly disappeared, the Broiler Festival is still celebrated every summer.
Rolling into Belfast, you will get your first glimpse of open water. This is Penobscot Bay, the mouth of the Penobscot River, where the river meets the sea. Frederick Wiseman, a noted documentary filmmaker, chose Belfast as a subject for one of his films, released in 1999. Critic Stephen Holden wrote of the movie: “ [Belfast] conveys a deeply emotional sense of place, season and time of day. In contrasting the breathtaking landscape with the troubled lives of many of those living there, it reminds us that the fleeting beauties of the natural world — the simple pleasures available to all — are among life’s deepest consolation.”