2014 Route Digest – Chapter 1

June 27, 2014 News No Comments


 

Welcome to BikeMaine! If you are a returning rider, you know the fun and variety that awaits. If you are a first-time BikeMainer, get ready to see our wonderful state as few do – by bike.


Welcome to Westbrook

Westbrook MillThe City of Westbrook, home to about 18,000 people, is proud to have been selected as the start and finish location for BikeMaine 2014. Westbrook is a quintessential New England mill town, with a paper mill located at its very center on the Presumpscot River. Originally the S.D. Warren Mill, the facility was built in 1854 and was the first coated papermaking facility in the United States.   Now known as Sappi Fine Paper North America, the Westbrook mill’s 350 employees produce 40% of the world’s supply of release paper, a type of paper used in manufacturing products that require a certain texture. Sappi’s customers use the release paper made at the Westbrook mill to provide texture on products like soccer balls, shoes and high-end clothing. The release paper begins as a cellulose-based paper, but in the mill a special coating is applied and then the paper is cured with electron beams. This type of release paper is 10 times more valuable than the coated specialty paper for cat alogues and magazines the mill used to produce.

Westbrook KayakJust up river from Sappi is Westbrook’s 100 year old Riverbank Park where the BikeMaine Village will be situated on September 6th. The River Walk connects the park to Saccarappa Falls and downtown Westbrook, with its many restaurants, an art gallery, vintage antique shop and pottery gallery.   Along the River Walk, you can rent kayaks and enjoy a peaceful paddle on the Presumpscot River.

For those who arrive early to town and like to golf, Westbrook has four 9-hole golf courses and a driving range:

In celebration of this year’s BikeMaine, the City of Westbrook will host a kickoff parade down Main Street late Saturday afternoon, followed by dinner and entertainment. Then tuck yourself in for a good night’s rest in preparation for a week of glorious riding. Over the next few days, as you cycle past lakes, rivers, estuaries and ocean bays, you’ll understand why we tagged this year’s ride “Pedaling the Waterways.”


Day 1: Westbrook to Norway

Our first day of riding begins with a celebratory mass start at 8:00 a.m. on Main Street, right outside Riverbank Park. Community members and sponsors have been invited to accompany us as we head out of town and embark on our adventure.

Once past Westbrook and Gorham, we enter South Windham, where we pick up the Mountain Division Trail. The trail is named for the inactive train track bed that it parallels and, once completed, will span a 52-mile stretch between Portland and Fryeburg, on the New Hampshire border. Today, we ride the Mountain Division Trail for only 1.5 miles, before heading towards the west side of Sebago Lake, referred to by locals as the “back”side because it is the less densely populated side of the lake.

Day 1 StandishBefore we get our first glimpse of Sebago Lake, however, we pass through Standish. Standish was originally hunting and fishing territory for the Abenaki Indians. In 1785, the town of Standish was incorporated and was named for the Pilgrim, Miles Standish.

Standish also is home to the Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area, which we pass on our left. This property was the first land to be protected after Rachel Carson and a handful of Maine citizens formed a local chapter of The Nature Conservancy in 1956. Today this wildlife management area covers 3,971 acres and is composed mostly of upland forests with some wetlands throughout the area.

sebagoOur route then traces the western shoreline of Sebago Lake.  Riding along Route 114, you’ll see many modest roads going off to the right that lead to cottages (or “camps”as Mainers refer to them) along the lake’s shore. Our morning rest stop is at the Sebago Lake Campground, where you will get your first unobstructed view of Sebago Lake.

Sebago Lake is Maine’s deepest and second largest lake. It covers over 45 square miles, has a total shoreline of 105 miles, and is 300 feet at its deepest point. Carved by ancient rivers and scoured by Ice Age glaciers, Sebago Lake fills a basin made of granite that has been weathered for millions of years. Only Moosehead Lake to the north is larger. Sebago Lake is a fabulous year round recreation area, but because the lake also serves as the main water source for the Greater Portland area, the water quality of the lake is of particular importance to the surrounding communities. As you ride along its shores, keep an eye open for the common loon. These birds migrate to Sebago Lake to breed and raise their young.

In East Sebago, at the westernmost part of Sebago Lake, we’ll ride by the Spaulding Memorial Library, built in the 1920s by a long-time summer resident. The library is constructed of fieldstone and has a lovely fieldstone fireplace inside. 

locksIt is in East Sebago where Route 114 joins with Route 11, and we head north to the headwaters of Sebago Lake. We turn off the main road onto a quiet lane that takes us to Songo Lock, connecting Sebago Lake to Brandy Pond and Long Lake. This lock is the only one remaining from the 30-plus locks built in the 1830s to link Long Lake and Sebago Lake, via the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, to the Atlantic Ocean near Portland.  The Songo Lock and swing bridge are operated manually and, if there is boat traffic passing through the area while you are there, you will be able to see all that goes into moving traffic through the lock.

We then roll into Sebago Lake State Park at the northern edge of Sebago Lake. A popular recreation area, the park opened in 1938 and is one of Maine’s original five state parks. The park is mostly forested, covering 1,400 acres, and contains a variety of habitats, ranging from sandy beaches along the water’s edge, to woodlands, ponds and bogs.

After the park, we pass Brandy Pond on our left and come to Route 302, also known as the Roosevelt Trail, the main east-west road in this region. It was given its name because this stretch of road originally was the beginning of The Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, designed to run from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.

The Bike Maine route continues across Route 302 onto Sand Road and Route 11, where we cross the Crooked River. A quick look at a map explains the river’s name. Crooked River doubles back on itself countless times in a 10-mile stretch before emptying into Sebago Lake.   The northern end of Crooked River flows through Jugtown Plains, a region that is defined by the contiguous block of forest that covers over 3,280 acres. The core of this forest is composed of Maine’s most important example of pitch pine-heath, a natural community that once grew unbroken along the eastern coastline but now struggles to grow under the continuous threat of development. These pitch pine-heath barrens are home to the Acadian swordgrass moth, a rare species that can only be found in a few sites through the state.

signpostsWe leave Route 11 for local roads, and ride to the town of Casco, where we’ll pass the famous signpost showing Maine towns named after presidents and their distances from the town, and stop for lunch at the Casco Recreation Center.

Following lunch, the route passes between Parker Pond (on the right) and Pleasant Lake (on the left). There are a whole lot of Pleasant Lakes or Ponds in Maine (more than 20). This is the one that stretches from Casco to Otisfield. Along the way, we leave Cumberland County and enter Oxford County, one of Maine’s western counties, and the town of Otisfield.

In 1859, a historian described Otisfield as having three post offices, twenty-four schools, “three sawmills, four shingle machines [and] a capital invested in trade of $6,000.” Look around and see how times have changed. Otisfield, now home to 1,770 people, is the home of Seeds of Peace, a camp operated by the peace-building youth organization founded in 1993 and based in New York City. The camp brings youth from areas of conflict around the world to Otisfield for a three-week program designed to confront their prejudices and deep-seated fears and tackle the issues that fuel violence, hatred and oppression at home.

Onward to Oxford County, one of Maine’s western counties. We travel on Route 121 for a short distance before turning onto Rayville Road. On our left, is more water: Saturday Pond, then Moose Pond. We take Route 117 past the Pennesseewassee Lake into Norway, the end of the day’s ride.


Norway

Norway DowntownThe Town of Norway is cozily nestled into the scenic foothills of Western Maine. Known first as Rustfield Plantation after wealthy landowner Henry Rust, the town of Norway was incorporated in 1797. The Pennesseewassee Stream, leading from the lake of the same name to the Little Androscoggin River, once powered grain mills, a cloth and carding mill, and factories making boxes, furniture and shovel handles. A shoe factory was built in 1872, and by 1878 there were 32 stores in town and a population that was growing faster than any other town of similar size in the state.

On May 9, 1894, a fire started in the C.B. Cummings & Sons mill. A strong wind spread the fire down Main Street, burning the opera house, Congregational Church, a tannery and 80 homes and other buildings.   Much of the town was quickly rebuilt, this time using the latest brick and wood styles of the day. Norway’s buildings today include some of the best examples of period architecture in the state. Unlike many small towns with similar histories, the buildings of Norway have remained relatively intact. Downtown Norway was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and the community offers a historical walking tour of its Main Street.

Norway HouseAs you enter Norway’s Historic Downtown you will pass the “Gingerbread House,” one of the many historic buildings being revitalized in the community.

Our BikeMaine Village in Norway is located on town fields located adjacent to a New Balance factory, one of three factories in Maine making sports footwear for New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. The Norway factory was built in 1997.

Once you have unpacked and settled into the “Bike Maine Village,” make your way down Norway’s Main Street.
Enjoy perusing its unique shops and art galleries.   Stop by a local cafe for a coffee, or one of its restaurants or markets for a great locally made snack. The historical society would love to give you a tour and tell you the tales and great stories that make up Norway’s history.


Day 2: Norway to Winthrop

Norway and South Paris, the next town we pass through, are like many of Maine’s paired towns: separated by a body of water, in this case the Androscoggin River, but closely allied in all day-to-day activities. The Norway-South Paris area attracts many visitors year round for water activities in the spring and summer, foliage and hunting in the fall, and skiing at nearby Sunday River and Mt. Abram in the winter.

Day2A quick turn of the wheel takes us to South Paris, on the other side of the Androscoggin. On the left as we pass out of town, is the McLaughlin Garden, an amazing horticultural treasure in the heart of South Paris. The Garden was started by Bernard McLaughlin back in the 1930s. Self-taught, he grew and maintained the two-acre site until his death in 1995 at the age of 98. The Garden and Homestead are maintained and improved by a group of local citizens. During Bernard’s time, locals and visitors knew that if the front gate to the garden was open, they were welcome to view his unique collection of trees and flowers. Every May, the Garden hosts a lilac festival when the trees explode with color.

South Paris also is home to the Celebration Barn Theater, a theater school of mime, improvisation, storytelling and other performing skills founded in 1972 by the late mime artist, Tony Montanaro. Celebration Barn alumni have gone on to careers in television, film and theater, including puppeteers with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, writers for Between the Lions, and performers in Cirque du Soleil.

As we leave South Paris, we cross Route 26 and begin our first climb of the day to Paris Hill, topping out at 1,044 feet and well worth the effort. Near the top of the hill is a community of stately homes and public areas, as well as a golf course.  Looking at these beautiful homes takes us back to the beginning of the last century when this was a self-contained community and the county seat. The village of Paris Hill was established at an elevation of 820 feet above sea level, with views of Mount Chocorua and Mount Washington in the White Mountains. The Paris Hill Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, has fine examples of Federal and Greek Revival architecture. The old Oxford County Jail, built of granite in 1822, was given in 1902 to the Paris Hill Library Association, and is now the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum. The library was named after Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin, the nephew of Hannibal H. Hamlin, Vice President of the United States during Lincoln’s first term, who was born in Paris. The library will be opening extra early in order to accompany our visit, so please stop in to learn more about this historic community. The largest home on Paris Hill, with its spectacular view of the mountains, was once the home of Vice President Hamlin. It now is owned by Bob Bahre, former owner of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and avid collector of more than 70 antique cars, which he displays each year in July.

We continue climbing Paris Hill on Mt. Mica Road. The Mt. Mica Mine, the oldest gem mine in the United States and one of the few still in operation in Maine, is located in this area. The mine is well known for its tourmaline and other semi precious stones and minerals. We climb almost to the top of Hedgehog Hill, where we reach our highest point of elevation on BikeMaine 2014 at 1,043 feet. The route turns right onto Paris Hill Road, where we have lengthy cruise ahead of us along a mountain ridge for nearly ten miles before rolling into Buckfield. Along the way we will pass Cooper Spring, with water that is wonderfully cold and sweet.

Buckfield was first settled in 1776 by a fur trapper from Massachusetts. The following year, two families moved to the area and eventually purchased the land from the Commonwealth at a cost of 2 shillings per acre. The town was incorporated in 1793 as Buckfield, named for Abijah Buck, one of the early settlers. The east and west branches of the Nezinscot River join at Buckfield Village, and once supplied water for several mills producing a variety of wood products, such as lumber, shingles and barrel staves. Despite the town’s modest size, it is the birthplace of several well-known artists: the actor Patrick Dempsey (Dr. McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy); country-folk musician Ray LaMontagne; and Steve Voltz, co-founder of Eepybird, an entertainment company best known for creating the viral video “The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments.

Buckfield is our last stop in Oxford County, but there’s plenty more riding left today. We are entering Androscoggin (and-dro-SKOG-in) County and the town of Turner. In Turner Center, we have our morning stop, and then head north to Howes Corner, where we cross the Androscoggin River. The Androscoggin River begins in Errol, New Hampshire and is 178 miles long. It joins the Kennebec River in Merrymeeting Bay (which you will see on Day 6), before emptying its waters into the Gulf of Maine. The name “Androscoggin” comes from the Eastern Abenaki term meaning “river of cliff rock shelters.”

grangeWe pedal east, then south through Leeds, where Oliver Howard was born. He was a decorated Union officer who was put in charge of the Freedman’s Bureau in 1865, with the object of assisting former slaves in the South after the Civil War. He was also a force in the founding of Howard University, in Washington, D.C. We pass the Leeds Grange Hall, a distinctive building that was used as a performance stage, meeting hall and graduation location.

South of Leeds, we ride through tiny Curtis Corner, where former Maine Governor Kenneth M. Curtis was born in 1931.   We then cross into Kennebec County and ride along the delightfully flat Bog Road, across Route 302 and into Monmouth, where we have lunch. Monmouth is on the shores of Cochnewagon Pond, a nearly 400 acre body of water. Monmouth, once known for its agriculture and water-powered mills, now is home to Tex-Tech Industries, a manufacturer of high-performance textiles. Tex Tech is the world’s largest producer of tennis felt (think bright yellow balls). In addition, Tex Tech has produced in excess of three million yards of aircraft seat fire-blocking material.

ceilingMonmouth is also the home of the Theatre at Monmouth, a stage company that produces theatrical productions, including Shakespeare’s works, in repertory throughout the summer months. The company performs in Cumston Hall, a historic library in downtown Monmouth. It was completed in 1900 and is named in honor of Dr. Charles M. Cumston, a former headmaster at the English High School in Boston. Cumston gave the Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne Style building to Monmouth equipped with a library and auditorium. Harry Hayman Cochrane, a muralist, designed and decorated the hall. Cochrane’s work is most noted for the infamous cherubic portraits that adorn the ceiling and the intricate hand-molded plaster work that frames the walls, boxes, and proscenium arch of the stage.

We then hang a left on Cobosseecontee (cob-us-eee-CON-tee) Road and another left on Sanborn Road and again are surrounded by lakes. Cobosseecontee Lake is to the right and Annabessacook (anna-BESS-a-cook) Lake is on the left. We are heading north again, through Kennebec County toward our stop in Winthrop tonight. We slice one last intersection of lakes, Lower Narrows Pond and Upper Narrows Pond, and head into Winthrop to the State YMCA Camp of Maine.

 


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