Maine is made up of small rural towns, and I can’t help but smile as I drive through ones with names like Harmony, Friendship, Freedom and Liberty. I always think, and hope, how happy the residents must be to call such a welcoming town home.
Recently, I traveled to a small town I had yet to visit, Madrid. Another fun name, right? As I traveled on Route 142 out of Kingfield, my mind drifted off to Spain and thought how different the two Madrids are.
Of course, Maine’s version is pronounced MAD-rid, while the Spanish city is Ma-DRID, so there is that distinction, as well. But I digress.
I had my sights set on the Perham Stream Birding Trail. Thanks to the Maine Trail Finder website, I came across the trail as I was searching its map feature for local trails around Kingfield.
On my half-hour drive to the trailhead, I gazed joyfully at a robin egg blue sky and even cracked my window a few inches to let in the fresh air that felt warmer than winter but slightly cooler than the spring days that are on the way.
I crossed a narrow one-lane bridge and wondered how far back the rickety looking structure dated. Immediately after the bridge, I saw the hand-painted trailhead and parking signs and pulled into the small lot.
As I was getting my cross-country ski gear ready, a gentleman exited an old farmhouse and crossed the road toward me. He introduced himself as Carson Hinkley, the caretaker of the trail.
He explained how he takes care of the 2-mile loop during the warmer months and makes wide paths thanks to a couple laps on his lawn mower. In the wintertime, there’s a local lady who frequents the trail with her dog, offering a snowshoe path for other visitors to follow.
Hinkley is a multi-generation inhabitant of the area, which was once known as the East Madrid Intervale. During the 19th century, the wide, low-lying valley that makes up part of the Sandy River watershed was home to a flourishing agricultural community. Back in the day, about 30 families called the landscape home thanks to fruitful soil and easy water access via Perham Stream.
He pointed out a couple viewpoints on the trail map, I thanked him, and was on my way.
The open fields had me basking in the warmth of the sunshine, and it put an extra pep in my step as I glided my skis over the snowshoe tracks. The white snow and brilliant blue sky made for a deep contrast in colors and a combination that left me feeling blinded when I rested my sunglasses on my nose to take a photo.
I reveled in the views of Saddleback Mountain and Mount Abraham, and because of the vibrant colors and nonexistent wind, it was as if I were standing there looking at a beautiful winterscape painting.
Mostly, the trail followed along the edges of open meadows but I did make my way through sections of hardwood forest. I saw numerous wildlife tracks and listened to birdsong. It felt soothing and offered moments of reflection. I pondered how wildlife sustain themselves during the winter months. Also, I wondered if the warm day had them looking forward to spring as much as I was.
I followed the trail in a clockwise direction and, near the point where I would turn right to meet up with the trail that would take me back to my car, I noticed a small rectangular section of white picket fence to my left.
I skied over to it and realized it was the small cemetery Hinkley had referenced. In the far upper corner were headstones that belonged to his parents, and it’s been said that an old Swedish trapper, one of the earlier settlers of the land, might have been laid to rest there, too.
On the way back to my car, I veered off the snowshoe trail and made my return alongside Perham Stream.
I felt thankful that I and others have access to this one-of-a-kind trail. Not only is the Perham Stream Birding Trail steeped in history but it’s also a paradise for birders and wildlife watchers.
It’s as if the landscape has morphed from a land where farmers and families took refuge to one where animals and birds now enjoy the fruits of the land. Maybe, in a way, it has come full circle.
And through most of it all, the Hinkley family has been there as timekeepers and caretakers. Protecting the land is of utmost importance to Carson Hinkley, and that is why he recently transferred the land to be held in conservation by High Peaks Alliance.
So, if you’re a devoted birder, love Maine history, or are simply looking for a beautiful stroll through new woods, I encourage you to take a drive to Madrid. The Perham Stream Birding Trail will leave you with a new feeling of appreciation for your neighbors.