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I’m kicking myself for not visiting this Holden trail network sooner

By Aislinn Sarnacki,


Wildflowers glowed in the late afternoon sun. As I walked along the edge of a field, cows wandered lazily, munching on grass. A chipmunk squeaked, then disappeared inside an old rock wall. And all I could think was: Why did I wait so long to visit?

The lovely trails at Hart Farm in Holden are a fairly recent development. Still, I feel silly for not exploring them sooner. I live close by, and it’s a wonderful spot for photographing nature — whether its birds, mushrooms or the way the wilderness takes over the crumbling ruins of a homestead.

The farm and trail network are located on Copeland Hill, which offers an open view of the distant Appalachian Mountains. The farm dates back to the mid-1800s, and thanks to the work of two Maine land trusts, it’s still operating today.

In 2016, Holden Land Trust purchased the 157-acre property to protect it from being subdivided and developed. Working with Maine Farmland Trust, HLT established an easement that required the land be used for agriculture. In 2018, it officially became a “Forever Farm.”
Cows wander a field at Hart Farm on Sept. 20, in Holden. They can be watched from the public trails on the property. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

In 2020, a young couple purchased the farm from the Holden Land Trust and got to work on renovations, planting produce and raising livestock. As part of the deal, HLT retained an easement that allowed for a trail network on the property.

Today, the network comprises about three miles of trails. And if you’re looking for a longer adventure, a connector trail leads to the trail network of the neighboring Fields Pond Audubon Center, which total just under four miles of trails.

Just keep in mind that while dogs are permitted at Hart Farm, they are not permitted at Fields Pond.

At Hart Farm, the trails are marked with metal diamonds that are nailed to tree trunks. Different colors are used for different routes. For example, the Pocket Field Trail is marked with blue diamonds, while the Shelterwood Trail is marked in white diamonds.
Signs mark the trail intersections at Hart Farm in Holden, making navigation easy. The intersections are also numbered. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

And here’s something that I love: The wooden signs at the intersections are numbered. And those numbers correspond with numbers on the trail map, making navigation easy. As a first-time visitor, I greatly appreciated that. At no point was I confused about my location.

I walked the Pocket Field Trail first. The route is a “lollipop,” meaning it starts as one trail and splits into a big loop. In addition, you can pick between the Lower Trail and Middle Trail for one side of the loop.

I chose the Lower Trail, which threads through a beautiful mixed forest. I found clusters of ferns and yellow-orange chanterelle mushrooms, towering white pine trees and mossy stumps. Deer tracks dotted the few muddy sections.
Two old cars sit in the woods of Hart Farm in Holden. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

I also spotted two old, rusted-out cars in the woods. There was something romantic about them, with their doors flung open and nothing left of their seats but springs.

On the east side of the loop, at trail sign 9, was the site of the former Isaac Bates and Ursula Jones Homestead. Bates moved to Holden from Massachusetts in 1790, and married Ursula Jones in 1807, according to an educational display at the site.

I love a good educational display. The one at the homestead site includes a drawing of the “hall-and-parlor” style house that used to stand there. Today, only a stone foundation remains. The display also includes a diagram of how the property was probably laid out, as well as the names of the couple’s eight children.
Late afternoon sunlight illuminates a cluster of ferns along the Pocket Fields Trail on Sept. 20, at Hart Farm in Holden. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

As I walked, I noted the beauty of late summer, with its purple asters and bright yellow shoots of goldenrod. Maple leaves were just starting to turn, their green being replaced by splotches of bright red. Crows cawed as they swept across the sky.

Before heading home to cook supper, I decided to check out the property’s other major loop: the Shelterwood Trail. It led me to a majestic stand of tall, straight pines, where the late afternoon sunlight filtered through to an understory of soft grass and wildflowers.

I’d never heard the term “shelterwood” before, so I looked it up. It’s a forestry method that encourages natural tree reproduction under the shelter of old trees, which are removed by successive cuttings. All I can say is that there was something beautiful about the uniformity of the straight tree trunks, spaced in such a way that I could look deep into the forest.
Columnist Aislinn Sarnacki looks up at the towering pine trees as she hikes Shelterwood Trail on Sept. 20, at Hart Farm in Holden. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

The sun, a shimmering orange ball, just hovered above the horizon by the time I returned to the gravel parking lot. And I drove away knowing that I’d soon return.

If you, too, are interested in visiting, a trail map can be found on the Town of Holden website or Holden Land Trust Facebook page . The map is also posted on the kiosk at the parking lot, which is on Copeland Hill Road, across the road from the farmhouse.

The kiosk also includes the property rules. The trails are open from dawn until dusk, year round, and access is free. Visitors are asked to stay on designated trails and practice “Leave No Trace” principles. This means picking up your trash and dog waste, as well as respecting wildlife and other trail users. Dogs are permitted but must be leashed. Open fires, camping and consumption of alcohol are not allowed.
A registration box stands just beyond the kiosk for the trails at Hart Farm in Holden. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

Just beyond the kiosk is a trail register. Sign in to let Holden Land Trust know how the property is being used. I’ve heard that that information can be helpful when land trusts make management decisions and apply for things like grants, so I always sign in.

If you do visit the trail network, maybe I’ll see you out there. I have a feeling that it’s going to turn into one of my favorite haunts.
A bog bridge zigzags through the trees on Sept. 20, at Hart Farm in Holden. (Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki).

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