woman on trail
Judi Bryan walks part of the trail in Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Friday, Sept. 30. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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Maine’s outdoors are marvelous.

They’re downright pretty to look at, of course. And spending time on a forested trail has a notably positive effect on our psyches. We delight in the smell of soil and fir trees, the delicate trickle of stream water, the majesty of the overhead canopy. We can breathe deep and feel energized, adventurous, inquisitive, and happy.

That’s the kind of experience everyone should have access to (even that crabby gent at the grocery store who yelled at the self-checkout terminal when he thought it was overcharging him for lemons. He could probably use a solid dose of Maine outdoors to ease his fried nerves).

So when we’re oohing over a particularly sublime spot—perhaps a blissful pocket of wilderness tucked behind the shops and restaurants of a lively local downtown—we want to share it: “Everybody! This place is awesome! Come look!”

But the reality is, while Maine’s public lands belong to everyone, the trails aren’t always so welcoming. Steep terrain and slender footpaths crowded by exposed roots and rocks aren’t conducive to wheelchairs, strollers, or walkers whose footsteps require flatter, unencumbered ground.

A new universal trail at Pondicherry Park in Bridgton is designed to welcome everybody.

Completed this summer, the trail is a 0.7-mile stretch between the Depot Street and Willet Road trailheads. It’s a flat packed-gravel path that gently winds through forest and along scenic Stevens Brook. And it’s wide—no less than six feet at any point—with occasional pull-offs and places to sit.

And wow, is Pondicherry Park a looker. The park boasts 66 acres of wetlands, woods, and fields. There are also several boardwalks and bridges scattered throughout, a historic spring, and an old stone fireplace (the remnants of a family camp that used to sit on this property).

One of the trailheads at Pondicherry Park, which features wide trails suitable for wheelchairs. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

The Depot Street trailhead, one of two entrances to the universal trail, is a mere block from Main Street, which makes this park a unique downtown-adjacent retreat. The wheelchair-accessible trail has been part of the vision for Pondicherry Park since its inception more than a decade ago. Created through a partnership between Loon Echo Land Trust, the Lakes Environmental Association, and abutting landowners, Pondicherry Park was donated to the town of Bridgton in 2012.

Another of the park’s notable assets is the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. Constructed in honor of Bob Dunning—a much-loved community member, preservation craftsman, and environmentalist who died in 2007—the covered bridge is a masterpiece. Spanning Stevens Brook close to the Depot Street trailhead, the bridge is accessible, beautiful, and incorporates neat features like tie beams cut from multiple area tree species. (For a more detailed dive into the bridge and its tie beams, including a helpful tree ID, see Leigh Macmillen Hayes’ blog wondermyway.com.)

And right now in Pondicherry Park, fall colors are popping on the ferns and birches and maples like an outdoor kaleidoscope. It’s a supreme place to power walk on a lunch break, if that’s your preference, but I recommend taking your time.

Loiter on the covered bridge and admire the reflection of towering trees on the mellow stream. Move slowly along the trail and listen for the rustle of squirrels darting through piles of dried leaves. And take a minute to appreciate that Pondicherry Park is glad you’re there—and it’s inviting everyone.

Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in South Portland. Find her at shannonkbryan.com.

five fields farm
To round out your adventure, head to Five Fields Farm for apples. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Pondicherry Park, Bridgton

Pondicherry Park has two miles of walking trails, including a 0.7-mile (one way) accessible trail accessible from Depot Street and Willett Road trailheads in Bridgton. For more information, visit mainelakes.org

With its easy proximity to downtown Bridgton, you can pair your meandering with a meal at nearby Ancora Italian Kitchen, Standard Gastropub, or Beth’s Kitchen Cafe. And to really round out a fall adventure, head to Five Fields Farm to buy a peck of apples, or head into the orchard to pick some of your own.

— Shannon Bryan

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