A new wheelchair-accessible trail is open on the grounds of the historic Pownalborough Courthouse in Dresden.
Few places in Maine offer wheelchair users and others with physical disabilities a chance to enjoy the outdoors on a hiking trail designed especially for them.
That is exactly what George Keyes, a former docent for Pownalborough Courthouse and trustee of the Lincoln County Historical Association, had in mind for a portion of the 160-acre tract of courthouse land in Dresden.
Before any trails came about, the association’s trustees debated what to use the land for and considered timber harvesting. However, Keyes walked through the wooded land and saw great potential for recreational hiking trails and spots for meditation and enjoyment of natural beauty.
“I walked up through the woods and found it was altogether beautiful,” Keyes said.
Keyes and Dresden resident David Probert, a fellow trustee, enlisted the help of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and obtained a grant from the Viles Foundation to build trails throughout the parcel, across Cedar Grove Road from the courthouse. The trail system now totals 2 1/2 miles.
Later, Keyes looked at a 1,500-foot path of the original trail system and thought it would make a great trail for wheelchair users. Probert agreed.
The new trail has no more than a 5 percent grade anywhere and has a surface of hard-packed gravel for ease of movement. The trail complies with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“It is a gem awaiting discovery,” Keyes said. “Everything it will promote is very important as a community service.”
Probert said he and Keyes hope many people, including veterans, will find the new trail a source of refreshment and enjoyment. Probert has informed Togus, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Augusta, about the trail.
John LeMieux, president of the Amputees Association of Maine, has expressed much enthusiasm for the new trail and wants to help publicize it, Probert said. Lemieux will speak at the official opening for the trail at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 2.
“I had a chance to walk the trail, and I think it is going to be a tremendous resource,” LeMieux said.
In addition to wheelchair users, “there are other users who could benefit from it, like older persons who haven’t been able to get out into the woods,” he said.
He called the entire campus – the courthouse and the trail system – a “treasure.”
Along with the trail, the association has built a handicapped-accessible bathroom in the courthouse carriage house.
Keyes hopes the general public will use the whole trail system, which the association may expand due to its acquisition of an additional 54-acre tract of land. The new land would enable a loop around the whole acreage.
Keyes considers the trail a “thank you” to the town. At the same time, he believes it will bring more people to the courthouse to learn about its rich history.
Pownalborough Courthouse served as a place for regional court cases until 1794, after the completion of the courthouse in Wiscasset.
The trails are all open to the public now, and Probert said the association will have a map of the trails available in the future.