PORTSMOUTH — Why leave town if you want to camp out, fish for trout, explore hidden history or revel in the beauty of white pines? The Melville Recreation Area has all that and more.
“You come here and you feel like you’re in the Maine North Woods,” said Esmond “Doug” Smith, chairman of the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee, which co-sponsored a guided walk Saturday at the site.
“It’s like a little hidden jewel. Not a lot of people know about it, but we’re trying to get the word out,” said Glenn Williams, a member of the all-volunteer Melville Park Committee.
Mr. Williams led the guided walk at the event, which also featured a 3.75-km. “race walk” that drew a healthy turnout. The Aquidneck Island Intertribal Indian Council was on hand, providing Native American songs and drumming.
The former Navy property — about 135 acres with six miles of trails — was given to the town in the 1970s, Mr. Williams said. The parcel features coastal woodland, wetlands, brooks and freshwater ponds for fishing. The campgrounds — which is under separate management from the park — also offers areas for RVs and tents, and there are picnic tables and a playground.
“The Navy put the ponds in. We stock them every year with trout,” said Mr. Williams, adding that Melville is a great spot for nature-lovers. “You might see a lot of robins. This is where they hang out in the winter.”
If you’re into trees, you won’t be disappointed. White pines, featured prominently at Melville, were favored by shipbuildings in the old days because they grew so straight, said Mr. Williams, a licensed arborist.
History buffs will also find something to interest them. Remnants of the original Mott Farm, occupied until the 1940s, are still visible at Melville. The Mott family first came to Portsmouth at the time of its establishment in 1638. Part of the foundation from the farmhouse — removed in 1973 — remains on the upper portion of the property. It’s kitchen sink, in fact, still lies on the ground near West Main Road.
Volunteers make it happen
Keeping the site maintained comes down on the shoulders of volunteers; the Melville Park Committee counts only six or seven members.
“The Scouts do a lot of work too,” said Mr. Williams.
And there’s plenty of work to do, such as clearing paths for hikers. Volunteers are always battling bittersweet, which wraps around trees throughout the property. “It’s very evasive; you can’t get rid of it,” he said.
The trails are open daily until sundown at no charge; visitors who bring dogs are simply asked to clean up after them.
“There’s so much to see, and it’s a nice place to come if you’re looking for solitude. I come here and listen to the birds,” said Mr. Williams. “Every season brings its own gifts.”
To get to the park, take West Main Road (Route 114) and turn into Melville School. Take Bradford Avenue, go past the pavilion, then take a right onto Smith Road and drive down to the parking area.
For more information about the Melville Recreation Area, visit www.melvilleponds.org.