QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: Not sure
- Trail Mileage: 2.5 miles in network
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: easy
- Sights: historical sites, Perham Stream, views, old cemetery, peat bog, fields, museum
Update: Very good news—High Peaks Alliance is helping to conserve this land and protect public access to its trails!
In the many years I’ve been walking Maine trails, I’ve never encountered a place quite like Perham Stream Birding Trail. It is fascinating (filled with history), beautiful (with views, fields, forests, and a pretty stream), and also touching, a place that reflects a family’s enduring connection to a particular spot, and one man’s commitment to saving the land and taking care of it.
The first thing you notice after driving along a long dirt road, and cross over what seems like a worryingly rickety bridge, is a very well-tended trailhead. The fields at the start of the trail are mown and dotted with bird feeders. Each parking spot along the fence is marked with a handwritten sign saying “trail parking.” A small kiosk contains preserve information.
Almost as soon as my friend and I closed the car doors after parking, Carson Hinkley walked out of his old farmhouse across the dirt road to greet us, holding a laminated map of his preserve’s walking trails. He urged us to take the map with us, and explained to us he is a 7th-generation inhabitant of this area, which was formally known as the Perham Settlement. He can recall centuries of history here as if it all just happened a decade ago. (The site has been inhabited by Europeans since about 1690, when the first records of a Swedish trapper living here surfaced.) Carson has dug up the diaries and farming journals of his grandparents, and their parents, and their parents. In his barn, on which he’s spelled out in big letters, “Perham Settlement Farm Museum,” along with an “open” sign, he keeps farming and household implements passed down through time.
The barn, by the way, feels a bit like stepping into a planetarium, because Carson’s father and uncle (or brother) pricked thousands of holes into the roof with nails. Each hole lets in a point of light, like a star.
Although the land now has just a few houses spaced out along the dirt road, once it was a thriving community of a few dozen families. (Carson says they produced different items, and bartered among themselves for every need they couldn’t supply themselves.) A few cellar holes are still visible in the land — stone-fortified gaps in the ground. Rusting old cars from the mid-20th century have been left in the fields — remnants from more modern times. Hinkley has marked all these sights all with signs.
Additionally, his research has shown him who was buried where in the old cemetery on the grounds, and he has placed laminated handwritten signs in front of the worn stones — if they once had an inscription, they’ve since been eroded away. “Old man Joe Rowe, died around 1850” and “Alberton Moulton, age 10 years.” Some of the marked gravestones, standing in a line, face out toward the field and peat bog, placed there as if to watch the changing seasons and passing wildlife. Hinkley’s own parents are buried here in the cemetery — his mother, who lived here with him, just died in the spring. On his father’s grave, Carson has written: “Wilson Earle Hinkley, March 8, 1923. July 9, 2003. Born on the land, died on the land.” The cemetery is just one spot you can visit on the 2.5 miles of trails that Hinkley keeps up so meticulously by driving his lawn mower through the trail system every week or two weeks, and updating the signs.
I was sad that the weather was rainy and misty the day I visited, since Carson said the views are lovely. The trail system includes two overlooks, from which you can see mountains on a good day. (Other video I looked at show gorgeous mountain views from the meadows.) The trails are wide, easy, and pretty. Definitely don’t miss the trail around the field and Carson’s farmhouse — the views of the meadow are nice, and Perham Stream is beautiful, with a few deepish pools.
I am not sure the status of this land — Carson said he is trying to preserve it forever with Sandy River Land Trust.
Directions: From Farmington, take Route 4 North to Phillips, turning right at the junction of Route 4 and 142. At the stop sign, turn left. Stay on Route 142 leaving Phillips and drive 2.5 miles from town, turning left onto the East Madrid Road at the Manzer sign. Drive 4.7 miles, until crossing a small bridge over the Perham Stream. Look for the birding trail kiosk and park on the side of the road.