7-17-2021 Parsons-Pleasant Mountain from Mount Tom

A partial view of Pleasant Mountain from Mount Tom summit ledges. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

On March 23, I injured a ligament in my left knee in a fall in Tuckerman Ravine. I’m happy to say that my recovery is coming along and I am hiking again, starting out with easier hikes and slowly working my way up.

Last Saturday, I drove over to Fryeburg, Maine, and did the 1.7-mile West Ridge Trail on Mount Tom (1,073 feet).

The round profile of Mount Tom, with a cliff on its south side, is visible on the left from Route 302 when you approach the bridge over the Saco River on your way east towards Bridgton, Maine.

There are two trails up Mount Tom, both starting on Menotony Road. This road is located on the left on Route 302, 1.2 miles east of the Fryeburg Post Office.

The old Mount Tom Trail begins on the right in 2.3 miles down the road from Route 302. It passes through the property of the local Carter family. The newer West Ridge Trail, built by The Nature Conservancy, begins on the right 1.1 miles down the road. Menotomy Road is a historical dead end road. At one time it was the old road to Bridgton, and at its end was a “ferry” across the Saco River.

I have been up the older Mount Tom Trail a few times in the deep past, and when a friend posted on social media about the pleasure of hiking up the new West Ridge Trail, it grabbed my attention.

There is not much of a view from the summit of Mount Tom, grown up over the years, but my friend said that the new trail ascended through a beautiful forest with interesting rock formations. This contrasts with the old Mount Tom Trail, which is wide and ascends past some remains of landowner logging near the bottom.

The Nature Conservancy owns the 995-acre Mount Tom Preserve, including most of the mountain plus 3,500 feet of frontage on the Saco River, located on the opposite side from the trails.

John Bailey is the land manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Maine Field Office. Five years ago, his crew started the two-year project of building the West Ridge Trail. Included in the crew were inner city youth from Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future or LEAF.

Also present were Nature Conservancy volunteers and staff.

“We enjoyed working with the inner city youth,” said Bailey recently. “We were proud of what they built. They were new to the natural scene, and expressed wonder in it. Sometimes we got down late after dark, and they couldn’t believe how dark it got in the woods, and the amount of stars in the sky at the trailhead.”

Last week, I turned right at the large sign into the trailhead parking lot and headed up the trail. Almost immediately I passed a striking cellar hole. An 1858 map indicates it was likely the home of the A.H. Evans family. It must have been a lively place, located on the old road to Bridgton.

The narrow trail wound through different forest types as it ascended the mountain. At the bottom were mixed oak and other northern hardwoods. Further up were beech and red pine, and at the top was an oak/hickory forest with scattered eastern red cedars.

Halfway up was a striking long ledge with a 30-foot drop off. It looked like a metamorphic rock with sedimentary layers still visible.

The attractive trail was laid out to cause minimal impact to forest and wildlife, one of the Nature Conservancy’s goals.

Just below the summit, the trail joined the old Mount Tom Trail. On the summit ledges, I passed the summit sign and walked downhill a few hundred feet further to a partial view of the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain in Denmark, Maine, in the distance, and ate lunch in the shade.

On the descent, I couldn’t resist taking the old trail down, though I knew there would be a 1.2-mile road walk on Medotomy Road back to my car. But the historical road is not a bad place to walk.

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