Amidst a winter defined by weather variability, we chose the perfect window to get out to Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine, for a day of cross-country skiing. A light snowfall and just-sub-freezing temperatures transported us into a winter wonderland the likes of which can be replicated only rarely these days. I’ve long been an appreciator of the Preserve and its network of meticulously maintained trails crisscrossing woods, pastures, and orchards, but my only visit last year came well after snowmelt following the Center for an Ecology Based Economy’s annual Climate Convergence in April.
The trails are a blast on foot or mountain bike in the summer, but they really shine in the winter months when the groomer comes out to lay down pristine corduroy tracks for the benefit of local skiers. Accompanying the trails is a state-of-the-art wood-fired warming hut replete with a full rental service for cross-country skis and snowshoes operating on weekdays from 1:00-4:00 p.m. and on weekends from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Incredibly, use of the trails and the rentals is entirely free for visitors. The Western Foothills Land Trust (WFLT) has gone above and beyond by procuring grants, donations, volunteer contributions, and investment from local benefactors to keep the property free and open to all who wish to use it.
After a check-in at the warming hut to pick up a trail map and get some insider intel about the best available routes, I donned my Natural Resources Council of Maine beanie (those and more are available here!) and clipped into my skis. With 7 miles of groomed cross-country trails splaying across 165 acres of varied terrain, Robert’s Farm Preserve presents the potential for a full day of honest skiing for an advanced skier or a gentle slide into a new hobby for a novice. Our crew represented a happy medium on that spectrum; my brother Charlie displaying his high school racing chops while my friend Ari and I strove valiantly to keep within a respectable distance. Snowshoers occasionally emerged along the trail, ducking back into the woods to rejoin the two-mile snowshoe loop that weaves through the property.
Charlie and I learned that Ari was taking a photography class and assented to being the subjects of his action shots. How he managed to capture anything but a blur as we whipped past at breakneck speed is beyond me, but the snow falling steadily into the muted Maine forest made for a phenomenal backdrop to our huffing and puffing attempts at athleticism. The swish of snow underfoot was interrupted only by the occasional exclamation of joy as we transitioned from green circles to blue squares to black diamonds and back again.
Our first pass of the scenic overlook across Lake Pennesseewassee gave us a towering view of the Western Maine Foothills rambling off toward Bethel and the White Mountains beyond. By the second pass, the accumulating snow had hemmed the world in around us, creating a snow globe of which the lake’s frozen surface comprised the outer edge. Fattening flakes threatened to blind us on our descents, but we managed the turns with relative grace and huge, squinting grins enroute back to the warming hut. Enlivened by the picturesque conditions, we were easily convinced by the kind warming hut attendant to give the new trail into town a try.
Extending East from the networked trails on the preserve, the Lunch Trail (named after the renowned Maine Beer Company IPA) traverses the two-mile expanse between the Robert’s Farm Preserve and downtown Norway, tilting skiers down an exhilarating final slope to the newly erected Water Street kiosk. From there, a short walk grants recreationists access to an array of small businesses along Norway’s historic village center. We chose to uphold the spirit of the Lunch Trail by clomping down to the Norway Brewing Company for a pint and some fries before heading back up to the Preserve for a reluctant drive home.
In addition to its recreational assets, the Roberts Farm Preserve also serves as an agricultural and educational space in the warmer months. Summer programming through the Oxford Hills School District allows students to build flower beds, tend to gardens, and learn about the processes of life hands on. The produce grown on-site heads right back to the local community, nourishing minds and bodies alike.
The Western Foothills Land Trust purchased Roberts Farm in 2007 after the former dairy farm had gone through a few iterations of logging and development planning. Their work since then exemplifies the value of investing in publicly accessible natural lands. More than 3,000 cross country skiers and snowshoers take a spin on the property each winter, and with the new Lunch Trail, those visitors can now easily frequent Norway’s downtown. Maintained green spaces are shown to boost local economies, and having those spaces available free of charge removes barriers that may otherwise prevent people from interacting with the outdoors. WFLT has protected more than 9,000 acres of land in western Maine, and they’ve ensured community access and collective ownership of those lands by removing cost barriers and establishing a robust network of volunteers and contributors that make those places special.
Roberts Farm Preserve is a true Maine gem, and I am very grateful to all those individuals and organizations who have spent the time and effort to curate a perfect winter outing. It is clearly the product of committed community buy-in, and I think it serves as a phenomenal example of what is possible through local community-oriented investment of time, money, and care. I’ll be doing my snow dance well into April and hope to see you out on the trails soon!
—Josh Caldwell, NRCM Climate & Clean Energy Outreach Coordinator