In their heyday, streetcars took people places: to work, to school, to the shops, and to scenic, well-landscaped parks where hard-working people could enjoy some respite and a picnic on a Sunday afternoon.
And while we’d be hard-pressed to get a reliable trolley ride to work these days, we can still ride a trolley into the Maine woods for a scenic day hike on a sunny afternoon.
The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport has been restoring vintage trolley cars from around the world since a small group of local railfans purchased their first trolley from the Biddeford and Saco Railroad in 1939.
Many have visited the museum to take a ride down memory lane (even if we’re technically too young to remember) during a 30-minute trolley ride on the museum’s demonstration tracks. It’s a fine jaunt down the line to the small Talbott Park, where the trolley loops around to return to the museum. For most museum visitors, that ride is a highlight.
But visitors can extend their day trip to the trolley museum into a trolley-and-trails experience by disembarking at Talbot Park and heading into adjacent Smith Preserve to hike on 10 miles of tree-lined trails.
It’s a novel way for hikers to trek into the woods and, between you and me, I think the trolley cars love the chance to once again do the work they were made to do: take us places. That demonstration track is now a legit route. Everyone’s happy.
After getting off the trolley at Talbott Park, there are signs to guide visitors to the trail that connects the museum grounds with Smith Preserve. This trail was once the Atlan
tic Shore Line Railway right-of-way (the museum has preserved four miles of this historic railway; the demonstration track uses two miles of it). The trolley tracks have been removed beyond Talbott Park, leaving a straight, flat trail of dirt and sand, which eventually connects to the well-marked Trolley Trail at Smith Preserve. From there, several miles of scenic trails feature cool wooden bridges, small brooks, and wildlife.
The 1.7-mile Brook Loop is short and hilly and includes waterfall views along Round Swamps Brook. The longer Trolley Loop is mostly flat and boasts winding wooden bridges through forests of ferns. Bobcat Loop is 7.5 miles and includes crossings over the Batson River and along Bobcat Ridge’s scenic ledges.
There’s no wrong turn in Smith Preserve, and the trails are accessible for kids and novice hikers. The trails are also very well marked.
After an afternoon of trail exploration, head back along the Trolley Trail to meet up with the connecting trail back to Talbott Park. Trolleys depart every 45 minutes or so, so if you time it just right you can catch a trolley with little wait. Or hang out in Talbott Park until the next trolley comes to take you back to the museum. But note that the last trolley of the day departs the museum at 3:45 p.m.; if you miss it, no return trolley for you.
And before your afternoon adventure comes to an end, be sure to take some time to check out the collection of vintage trolleys on display in the exhibit barns to properly cap off a unique trolley-meets-trail trip. The museum captures a great deal of interesting history and the trolleys are simply cool to gawk at.
And while we can always drive our cars straight to Smith Preserve to enjoy a day of hiking or mountain biking (or snowshoeing in the winter), it’s great to know that every now and then we can say, “Today I took a trolley into the woods.”
Shannon Bryan is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in South Portland. Find her at shannonkbryan.com.