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Walkin' round the back of the Bay

Portland's most heavily used greenspace (and probably its most loved) is not Deering Oaks. Nor the Eastern Prom nor Evergreen Cemetery. No, the most popular park space in a city renowned for its parks and trails is Baxter Boulevard and the Back Cove Trail. A thin sward of green abutting Back Cove, the large tidal basin adjacent to downtown, the trail ambles for three-plus miles in a lazy circle. From early, early in the morning until late, late at night, Back Cove Trail is a magnet for joggers, bikers, couples, families, Segway tours, and every other possible type of pedestrian or biker.

Technically, the roadway on one side of the trail is called Baxter Boulevard (designed by Olmsted Brothers), while the path is called Back Cove Trail, but the two terms are virtually interchangeable.  What most people say is, "I'm going for a walk around Back Cove, want to join me?"  And your proper response is "Absolutely!"

Circumnavigating Back Cove by foot takes about an hour.  Along the way, you'll see Portland's downtown skyline disappearing and reappearing behind closer buildings and trees.  You'll pass beneath linden trees planted nearly a century ago.  When it's windy, the nearby waves are almost lapping at your feet.  When it's calm, the Cove is like a sheet of glass reflecting the clouds.

If it's high tide (remember, this is a tidal basin, closely connected to Casco Bay), you might see windsurfers or even lobstermen out on the Cove.  If it's low tide, you might see a Great Blue Heron stepping daintily through the reeds.  Whatever the tidal conditions, you're almost guaranteed to spot flocks of ducks or geese, along with other shorebirds nesting in the reeds.  And on Sunday mornings, you're (again) almost guaranteed to see flocks of goodhearted citizens, all wearing identical T-shirts, walking round the Cove in support of some charity or nonprofit.

Frederick Law Olmsted is said to have referred to Central Park (which he co-designed) as "the lungs of New York."  It was the landscape architecture firm headed by his two sons that designed Baxter Boulevard and the adjoining greenspace.  Truly this verdant circle is the lungs — and heart — of Portland.

Photo: looking across Back Cove towards downtown Portland. Photo by the author.

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