Virgil Parris Forest, Buckfield, Maine – by Beth

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Trail head to the Packard Trail, Virgil Parris Forest, Buckfield, Maine.

My husband had off for Columbus Day, so we decided to go hiking.  It was unseasonably warm, and we had run a 5K race the day before, so we opted for a very easy trail.  The Virgil Parris Forest in Buckfield, Maine was the perfect choice.  The trail head is on the Sodom Road, which is off of Route 117 in Buckfield.  It’s easy to find, but the road does go to dirt and varies in condition depending on the time of year.  Four wheel drive would not be a bad idea in the winter or during spring mud season if you’re going to visit this trail.

This trail system has special meaning to me.  Virgil and Columbia Parris purchased our home in 1853, and it remained in the Parris family for nearly the next century, thus “the Parris House.”  Parris House Wool Works takes its name from this heritage.  While the web page for the Western Foothills Land Trust says zero about Virgil Parris and his family, the history is interesting.  Here is an excerpt from a previous blog post I did about our home:

“Located in the Paris Hill National Historic District, the Parris House dates back to 1818 and is named for its most well known owners, Virgil D. and Columbia Parris.  They purchased the home in 1853 and it remained in their family until the 1940s.  Virgil was a member of the United States Congress of 1840, a United States Marshall for Maine, and an acting Governor as well.  Perhaps even more interesting, however, is the story of a young man Virgil and Columbia adopted after Virgil prosecuted a slave ship, the Porpoise.  One young man aboard that ship had been abducted to be a slave from East Africa.  His African name was Tovookan, but he came to be known as Pedro Tovookan Parris.  Pedro came to live at the Parris House and became a very popular member of Paris Hill society.  He was a public speaker, a water color artist, a ventriloquist, and an inspiring survivor of his time as a slave.  There is much more information on Pedro and his life that I can share with anyone interested in his story.  Our stewardship of the Parris House has brought us in to close contact with this story and it has been a very moving experience.”

Here are some pics of the Parris family…

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Virgil Delphini Parris
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Columbia Parris, right, and her sister, Abigail Prentiss, when both ladies were at an advanced age. Columbia was past 100 years old when she passed away.
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Pedro Tovookan Parris

What I have not been able to ascertain is specifically why this tract of forest preserve was named for Virgil Parris.  Virgil’s father, Josiah, was a Revolutionary War veteran and the family lived in Buckfield when Virgil was growing up.  Virgil also was the founder of the Buckfield Railroad in the 19th century.  However, whether this specific land had any connection to the Parris family, I do not know, and nothing I have been able to find on the web explains it.  I would have to (and probably will) contact the Western Foothills Land Trust to ask that very question.  Again, I find it odd that there is no explanation of this by the land trust, but then I have to think that sometimes the people who thankfully and very ably preserve land for our use are not always historians, or even that interested in history.   I will update this post if I find the answer.

On to the actual nature of the trail though.  The primary trail through the forest is called the Packard Trail.  At the trail head there is a nice box containing the trail map (although it is impossible to become lost on this very well marked trail) and a guest book.

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It is a loop, with a very short additional trail, called the Cascade Trail, coming off at one end.  We did not do the Cascade Trail as we were running short on time, but will in the future.  The Cascade Trail has a falls on it, and there are other water falls on the trail as well.  On this particular day, the streams were on the dry side and the falls we saw were just a trickle, but it is not at all hard to imagine how they would be rushing in the spring and I look forward to going back and seeing them then.

A few things struck us about the trail.  The forest growth is generally very, very young.  Again, it would be interesting to know more about the history of this land that would explain why so much of the growth is so young.  As a result, the trail feels relatively open and sunny.  The foot path itself is nicely maintained, although there are many very small stumps sticking up from it which present a bit of a trip hazard in the fall when they are obscured beneath a little blanket of leaves.  I don’t know that I would recommend trail running this at this time of year for just that reason.  We opted to walk.  Really, it was such a gorgeous day, and the trail is so pleasant, that walking gave us more time to soak up the beauty of it all.

I could not help but think that this trail would be fantastic for snow shoeing in the winter, and it is meant to be used that way.  It is also open for cross country skiing.  I would not recommend the trail to inexperienced cross country skiers because there are areas where it would be pretty easy to slide down some steep side slopes toward South Pond if you were not in complete control of your skis and trajectory.  I do plan to visit again over the winter.

What follows are some photographs I took along the trail.  The trail runs right along the shore of South Pond, and as you will see, the pond was absolutely breathtaking on this day, the water reflecting the foliage like a mirror.

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Needless to say, it was just one more day in the paradise that is the great state of Maine.   From my husband, Bill, and me to you…happy hiking (and happy hooking!).

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