Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series and the sixth in 2017. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running town that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature Camden, Maine, population 4,850.
The town of Camden’s motto, “where the mountains meet the sea,” is apparent to all from the moment of arrival in this quaint seaside town on the rocky midcoast of Maine. But it is on the trails that one gets a true sense of how mountainous and seaside scenic this jewel of a town truly is for all who reside and vacation within its borders. With an annual population of nearly 5,000, which triples during the summer months, Camden is small enough to know most of your neighbors, and a quick trip to the grocery store will turn into an hour or more because you will engage in more than one chat with friends, while the largesse of its outdoor recreation opportunities will keep you discovering new trails and new trail friends for years upon end. Camden has the unique feel of a small town populated by very intentional residents. Along with the unending outdoor recreational opportunities, Camden boasts an excellent public-school system, fine dining to old-school local watering holes, world-renowned theater, art and music, and a strong tax base to build and maintain town roads and services, and as a result, the intentional community which calls Camden home hails from all over the world. A small town with a worldwide conscious is unique, and you will find it in Camden, Maine.
Trails, trail systems, and organizations who build and maintain the trails abound in the small town of Camden. Perhaps the best known is the State-owned Camden Hills State Park. While the main entrance to this park is located less than a mile north of downtown Camden on Route 1, there are multiple access points. Camden Hills is a trail running mecca, and the trail runner with map in hand will see 20 different trails listed, and the possibilities of connecting the dots unlimited! A perfect storm of miles, elevation and variation in terrain await the well-heeled trail runner, and with a self-sustaining pack, hours can lead to a full day of adventure.
A lesser known area of the state park, not directly located in Camden, but only a short drive (or long trail run) to Lincolnville, are the trails of Tanglewood. The Tanglewood trails offer the trail runner an unusual-to-the-region relatively flat, yet spectacular with the Ducktrap River and surrounding woods, greater than 8 miles worth of trail running, and is a favorite for year-round trail running as the mostly level terrain is attractive for snow-shoe running in the winter.
While the state park may be the best known, the local trail runner will never run out of alternatives. The Ragged Mountain recreation area, which is overseen by three organizations, the Town of Camden’s Parks and Recreation Department, Coastal Mountains Land Trust (CMLT), and George’s River Land Trust (GRLT), includes trails which run around and up and over this rocky, root-filled, mountainous terrain. The town owned Camden Snow Bowl, a lift-served ski mountain since the 1950s, has a renewed and wide-spread focus on bolstering 4-season recreation. Along with the organizations owning or overseeing the Ragged Mountain land, local clubs such as the Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine (TRoMM) and the midcoast chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association (McNEMBA) are collaborating to maintain existing trails and create new trails. Worth a mention is CMLT’s “Round the Mountain” trail campaign which will result in 9-miles of trail at the base of Ragged Mountain, with multiple access points and intersections leading to existing trails.
Both CMLT’s and GRLT’s trail reach extends far beyond the boundaries of the Ragged Mountain area. CMLT recently published a “Trail Guide” with a “Hike-the-Guide” challenge, inviting users to visit all the 28 listed preserves to earn a prize. GRLT, entering its 30th year of land conservation, is loved by trail runners for its 50-mile network of trail known as the “Georges Highland Path”.
Not all of Camden’s trails and trail systems are vast. The Town of Camden’s “Camden Outdoors Area Map & Guide” depicts contained trail systems such as the Goose River Network and Sagamore Farm which offer the trail runner as many miles as you want, while looping in and around a small tract of carved up woods. Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) recently created a family and dog-friendly 1.4-mile trail loop at Erickson Fields Preserve in neighboring Rockport, and plans to extend this trail to the top of CMLT’s Beech Hill are in the works. Whether you are looking for an hour’s trail run or days of trail running, you will find it in Camden, Maine.
Parking & Transit:
One of the benefits of living in a small town with acres and acres of protected land and trail, is that in most trail running areas, parking abounds and is free. One of the disadvantages is that there is very little public transit. Uber has yet to discover Camden, and the only bus transportation will take you North or South out of Camden, but not in and around Camden. Except for Camden Hills State Park, which has fees to park and/or use the trails, the outdoor enthusiast has free access to all the benefits of a trail loving town – maps with “suggested” donations, well maintained and free parking areas, and an active community where one can easily carpool with the locals.
Camden’s trail community is as large and varied as its trails and trail systems. For years and years, the trails have been created, maintained, protected, hiked, run, ridden, skied, etc. While the user community is incredibly diverse, the dawn of social media and the human desire for both solo and group activities has resulted in a plethora of opportunities and ambitions. There is a charge in the air of midcoast Maine, and the folks who play on the trails are gathering together to share the love and fun, the sweat and tears, the old and the new, and most importantly, the vision.
At the forefront of the trail running community, is the trail running club, Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine (TRoMM). As diverse as the trails which they run, TRoMM members vary in all things, BUT the love of trails and running them. True to a small-town dynamic, TRoMM is a melting pot of runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, incomes, education, value systems and beliefs, but when they gather on the trails to run, all edges blur and TRoMM becomes a two-legged version of the lynx which is the club’s symbol. “A community of fun-loving girls and boys who run amok in the woods and mountains of midcoast Maine” is not just the club’s tag line, it is its truth.
Gathering for group runs occur on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, but it is the club’s “Monday Night Dirt” which remains the flagship group run. For over 2 years now, the club meets at 6:00pm, 52-weeks a year, no matter the weather, and with headlamps in the winter, to run a 4 to 6-mile loop. The club’s stated ambassador night, all paces are welcome, and no runner is left behind. Following the run, a selfie is taken and interested runners head to a local watering hole for food, drink and merriment.
Camden itself is as diverse as its trail loving and running community, and yet, it is hard to find a Camdenite who is not involved in some sort of outdoor recreation. With a backdrop of mountains diving into the seas of Penobscot Bay, the main street lined with shops, restaurants, bars, municipal buildings and parks is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Just walking outside is an invitation to drink in the sights and sounds of this seaside town.
With a working harbor at the crux of it all, lobster boats and visiting yachts crowd into the slips and tie up to a mooring, the inhabitants to walk the streets in search of food, drink or supplies. You might pass by a person in muck boots and waders or someone in the latest fashions from abroad. In the summer, accents abound and faces become unfamiliar, yet the love for the surrounding hills and sea remains familiar and ubiquitous.
Camden can be described as a hip little town, yet the coffeehouse scene has not taken a stronghold within the town limits. More likely, you’ll order your latte from a local eatery such as Boynton-McKay or the Camden Deli. You can also find a latte and a tiny café within the sweet confines of a locally owned bookstore, The Owl and Turtle. As an alternative to a latte, you can always find a cup of hot coffee pumped from a thermos at the local convenience stores or engage in the most common New Englanders coffee ritual, a spin through the drive-thru of your local, and plentiful, Dunkin’ Donuts.
That said, mention must be made of Green Tree Coffee & Tea of Maine, located 5 miles north of Camden. This coffee is worth the drive, and if you’ve run trails in the Camden Hills State Park, which covers territory right up to the doorstep of this adorable wooden cottage with a fire roasting beans 24/7, it’s an easy and necessary diversion.
When it comes to beer, Camden is catching on to the craft brew craze. You won’t find a craft brewery in Camden proper, but you will find bars with taps serving craft brews from the many breweries found scattered all over the state of Maine.
The long-standing Cuzzy’s Restaurant and Tavern is one of the local trail runners’ favorites. Every Monday night, after the weekly group run, you will find a large gathering of TRoMMers enjoying either a can of Maine’s own Baxter Brewing Co.’s IPA or another trail running favorite, P.B.R.! Also serving up locally brewed beer, across the street, The Waterfront Restaurant, offers a fantastic happy hour with craft beer pints for only $3.00. Newer to the scene, but already a favorite as the owner is a local, a runner, and a Scotsman, The Drouthy Bear serves fantastic beer in a traditional Scottish setting. Off the beaten path of Main Street, but still downtown and a favorite for locals for just this reason, 40 Paper serves up craft brews, but as well, the creative and inspired cocktails are not to be missed.
If you are looking to buy a six-pack to enjoy post run, an unbelievable selection of brews, both locally crafted and beyond, can be found at the Village Variety Stop-n-Go convenience store and gas station. French & Brawn, the quintessential town market, provides an excellent selection of beer as well. At the edges of town, both Megunticook Market and the Market Basket have a wide and fine selection of beers to enjoy.
Every trail runner loves to eat. And Camden is known world-wide for its selection of food and food establishments. Found in any tourist guide will be the James Beard award nominated chefs of restaurants such as Francine and Long Grain. And yes, they are amazing. But, for the trail runner, looking for immediate gratification, Cuzzy’s Restaurant and Tavern, Boynton-McKay, Camden Deli, Mariners, and The Waterfront Restaurant are the places to go when you are fresh off the trail.
Venturing just over the Camden line to the town of Rockport, the pink awning and twinkling white lights of Laugh Loud Smile Big (LLSB), beckon the trail runner with a sweet tooth, offering the best cupcakes ever created, with a generous topping of signature buttercream frosting. LLSB has such a dedicated trail running following that they sell t-shirts inscribed with the cupcake logo and the phrase “Will run for cupcakes” which is truth for the runners of Camden, Maine.
As with the coffee, it is important to mention another local favorite eatery outside the downtown of Camden. Dot’s in Lincolnville has the best breakfast burrito going, and the TRoMMers often plan their weekly Wednesday group run based on the need for a Dot’s lunch following their time on the trails!
And finally, hitting on all the themes of community, culture, food and beer, Flatbread Pizza Company in Rockport is a favorite of all outdoor enthusiasts as well as the general population of the tight-knit midcoast community. Every Tuesday partial proceeds of every pizza sold benefit an organization of choice, while also providing a stage for information sharing. Coupled with delicious wood-fired pizza, a wide selection of craft brews on tap, and a casual and fun family atmosphere, Flatbread is a great stop after a day on the trails.
The sources of trail knowledge come in many forms and from many sources. Paramount, is the worldwide web, and more specifically Facebook, Instagram and the web pages of local clubs and land conservation and protection organizations. Trail Runners of Midcoast Maine (TRoMM) has an active Facebook group page, and discussions among members and potential members are rampant. Shared knowledge of trails, current conditions, gear, group runs, etc are plentiful.
The Town of Camden has an office centrally located on Main Street, and guides and information is readily available here. Coastal Mountains Land Trust also has an office filled with trail maps and information.
The locally owned outdoor store, Maine Sport Outfitters, carries a wide selection of trail running shoes and mountain biking equipment, and can point a trail user in the right direction. Located just down the road in Rockland, Side Country Sports, is a huge supporter of all things trail, and the owners have worked hard to foster community involvement in the creation and use of the trails.
Camden is a trail town, that is apparent. But what Camden also is, is a town that is increasingly becoming aware of the potential social and economic impact the trails and trail community can have on future growth of the town’s economy. 4-season recreation is a focal point of this seaside town, and trails, and the trail users, are leading this charge. The stewarding of trails and raising of funds to continue to protect existing trails and create new trails is a growing field and along with the growth, is collaboration. Once a system of multiple small conservation groups and clubs, the world in which we now live, with its information sharing and social networking, is having a very positive impact on the local trail community. Everyone is talking and joining together to craft an outdoor recreation playground for now and future generations to come forever.
There is no shortage of local running races and events, but the trail racing events in and around Camden had been in short supply. No longer. With the collaboration of Baxter Outdoors, TRoMM and McNEMBA, the Camden Snow Bowl Trail Fest was created in 2016. Now in its second year, and slated to occur on Friday, September 29th and Satruday, September 30th, 2017, this trail fest includes a 3K and 5K run and a 10K mountain bike. Racers can compete individually or as a team. This epic trail event happens at the base of Ragged Mountain, with the Camden Snow Bowl lodge and its surrounds as base camp. The inaugural event was capped at 120 racers, and this field has been extended to 250 for 2017. Along with the racing, the Fest includes live music, food trucks, gear tents and demos, massage table, overnight camping and a pancake breakfast. New this year, the Maine Outdoor Film Festival (MOFF) will provide a night of Maine made outdoor adventure films on Friday. The Camden Snow Bowl Trail Fest has plans to grow to include an entire weekend of events, and to gather trail lovers and users from all over. It is a part of the Baxter Outdoors New England Trail Series and an event which underscores and highlights all that is great about the trail town, Camden, Maine.
A final note. This is just a sampling of the many trail related aspects that Camden has to offer. Please come and see for yourself, and you will add to the list!
EDITORS NOTE: This Trail Town article was written by ATRA Trail Ambassador Emily McDevitt.