Editors Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the route and host communities of BikeMaine. Local Maine lawyer and cycling enthusiast Fred Frawley has crafted a comprehensive route digest detailing descriptions of sights and attractions along the route that connects the host communities. This combination of community information and route digest will be shared in a series of weekly articles. Remaining host communities will be showcased individually on the website through July and August.
Dover-Foxcroft is the Shiretown of Piscataquis County, a town so steeped in history that it received the “Preserve America” designation in 2007. Historic Central Hall, the flatiron Piscataquis Observer Building where the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society makes its home, the four-story brick Bank Building, the Blacksmith Shop Museum – there is so much to see!
Cyclists will arrive in Dover-Foxcroft on Sunday afternoon, greeted by views of the Piscataquis River and cycling through one of several historic districts, to arrive at the BikeMaine Village located at Kiwanis Park. The Village will feature music at the gazebo, a beer pavilion, food vendors, and a variety of other activities centered around the local YMCA.
Mid-afternoon, riders will be invited to walk or take a shuttle to the downtown, where there will be a potpourri of activities to enjoy including a wine tasting event at Center Theatre, short performances by the local community theatre group “Slightly Off Center Players,” an open house at the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society, and a virtual tour of the redevelopment project at the former Moosehead Manufacturing Site. In addition to these stops, riders will be free to visit the various downtown shops and/or simply enjoy some of the walking routes in the town’s historic districts.
As afternoon turns to evening, riders will head to the Foxcroft Academy campus for dinner. Foxcroft Academy serves as the local high school for Dover-Foxcroft students and home to almost 100 international students. The evening will begin with a social hour and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Foxcroft Academy’s international students. And, since Dover-Foxcroft is home of the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival , the riders will enjoy locally baked whoopie pies for dessert!
After dinner, riders will be treated to entertainment at the Village gazebo and beer at the pavilion. Be prepared for a fun evening led by an “unofficial” Maine Guide with many stories about the North Maine Woods.
Monday morning, riders begin their scenic ride to Belfast . . . with memories of Dover-Foxcroft, the doorstep of the Maine Highlands Region, where outdoor enthusiasts find plentiful opportunities for hiking on trails that span from sea level to the peak of Mt. Katahdin For those who love nature tourism, the next visit won’t be a question of if, but when.
Route Digest – Day Two Ride (9/9/13) – Dover-Foxcroft to Belfast by Fred Frawley
On to the Coast! Our route today takes us through more rolling hills, farm country and back-country Maine, until we reach Belfast on the coast of Penobscot Bay.
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 township was originally granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 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. Roll into your first rest stop in Stetson.
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.
After the rest stop, it’s just a slipstream south to Etna on Route 143. 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 camp-ground 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. Your lunch stop is at the Dixmont Gold Crest Riders Snowmobile Club. The club was founded in 1972 with the purpose “To promote goodwill between the snowmobile operators, the land owners and law enforcement officers”. The club maintains about 13 miles of Maine’s Interconnected Trail System (ITS)83, 14 miles of municipal trails, and 16 miles of local club trails. The trails are known to be some of the best in the area and encompass scenic views from several mountain and hilltops.
Right after lunch, 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.
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, our stop for today, 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.”