A massive pine tree sits in a shady forest. One thick, moss-covered branch swoops out from its side, then arcs up, reaching for the heavens. A few feet up, a second large branch sweeps out and up in a similar fashion. High above, bunches of long emerald needles seem to brush the bright blue sky.
Meet “Big Old Tree,” the enormous pine that’s featured on the Orono Land Trust logo.
The tree is located at Jeremiah Colburn Natural Area, on land that was the catalyst for the formation of the Orono Land Trust.
It all started in 1986, when a 44-acre parcel of land went on the market in Orono. The property was owned by the Hilton family of New Jersey, and local residents had been using trails on it for years.
It was a case of “you don’t miss it until it’s in jeopardy of being gone,” Jerry Longcore, Orono Land Trust president, said in an opinion piece he wrote for the Bangor Daily News in March 2012.
Clockwise from left: The Porcupine tree; cluster of tree mushrooms adorns the base of a tree; and blue blazes mark a trail at Jeremiah Colburn Natural Area in Orono. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
To save the property, a group of volunteers formed the nonprofit Orono Land Trust, wrote grants and raised funds. The new land trust then purchased the property and donated it to the town of Orono. And in 1996, additional acreage around one of the trails was donated by Virginia and Ron Mallett.
Over the years, the Orono Land Trust has worked with the town and private landowners to conserve wildlife habitats and improve recreation opportunities in Orono and the surrounding communities. Today, the land trust protects more than 4,000 acres.
Though the town owns Jeremiah Colburn Natural Area, the Orono Land Trust continues to manage the property. It’s home to about 3.5 miles of intersecting trails.
I first visited the trail network in early March 2013, on a day that started out with freezing rain and ended with sunshine. During my solo hike, I spotted a wide variety of animals, including two white-tailed deer, a ruffed grouse, three pileated woodpeckers and countless crows and chickadees.
I returned to the property in June 2015 to write a story about longtime Orono Land Trust volunteer David Tompson. On the eve of summer, it looked like a completely different place, with ferns and wildflowers replacing the heaps of melting snow I’d seen years before.
The property’s forest is mostly evergreen — pines and hemlocks, as well as some cedars, tamaracks and spruces. A stream runs through the property. And on the east side is Sally’s Field, a small field that’s mowed annually to maintain field habitat for a variety of animals.
It had been nearly seven years since my last visit when I returned to the property this month with my dog Juno in tow. Or, more accurately, I was “in tow” while she took the lead on leash.
If you’re not well acquainted with the trail network, it can be tricky to navigate. I used the trail map provided online by the Orono Land Trust, paired with a map of the trails I found on my AllTrails mobile app. Some trail intersections were marked with signs, but not all.
It also can be helpful to pay attention to what color paint is marking the trail. Different trails in the network are marked in red, white, yellow and blue.
It can be tough to walk all of the main trails and side trails in that network on one trip, so my goal was to hit the major landmarks.
The trail network has four trailheads and parking areas. They are on Forest Hills Terrace, Forest Avenue, Winter Haven Drive and Godfrey Drive. I parked at the trailhead located at the end of Forest Hills Terrace.
From there, we headed west and passed the junction with Cota Trail, which heads south to Forest Avenue and beyond to Rampe Conservation Easement, another Orono Land Trust property with trails. Continuing west, we visited a number of special trees that are marked with signs.
First, there was the Porcupine Tree. A hollow near the tree’s base has served as a porcupine den for quite some time. A massive pile of porcupine poop flowing out of the hollow gives it away. (If you didn’t know, porcupine poop looks like small, bean-shaped pellets.)
Juno was especially interested in this location. I had to do all I could to keep her from rolling around in fresh porcupine scat.
Standing nearby is the Lightning Tree, which was struck by lightning — twice. Parts of the tree are charred, and a big piece of it has fallen to the ground, but it’s still very much alive, with green needles sprouting from its upper branches.
We also swung by Sally’s Field, where I spotted several robbins hopping around in the grass. Chickadees flitted about in the trees edging the field. While in the woods, I spotted a brown creeper and a red-breasted nuthatch (both woodland birds).
At last we visited the Big Old Tree. It was impossible for me to capture the entire tree in one photo. It was so tall. I can’t even guess how old it is, but I hope it stands for many more years to come.