Quiet Beauty Abundant at Donnell Pond

Sunday, May 23, 2004
MAINE STATE PARKS: Franklin Burroughs
Quiet beauty abundant at Donnell Pond
Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a series on Maine state parks, historic sites and public lands. The stories are provided by the Maine Department of Conservation.

Most tourists turn south off U.S. Route 1 past Ellsworth and head for Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Of those who continue on toward Cherryfield, few turn north on Route 182, which leaves Route 1 a few miles east of Ellsworth and rejoins it in downtown Cherryfield. Route 182 is officially and rightly designated as scenic. It winds through hilly, lightly populated woodland, with fine views of a succession of lakes and ponds.

Since 1988, Maine has owned a substantial chunk of land – about 14,000 acres – on both sides of Route 182: the Donnell Pond Unit. This is one of the state’s 29 Public Reserved Lands. They are scattered from one end of Maine to the other, and encompass more than a half-million acres. The Department of Conservation oversees their management.
I visited Donnell Pond in the second week of May. The traffic through Ellsworth was already heavy. I ignored Mount Desert, took 182, drove a few miles and turned onto Donnell Pond Road, which brought me to a boat landing. I put my canoe in the water, my gear in the canoe and paddled forth.

Donnell Pond is roughly Y-shaped; the landing is at the extreme end of its left, or western, prong. Most of the land on both sides of this prong is privately owed, and both shores are lined with seasonal camps and cottages. But once I reached the main body of the pond, I could look north, south and east and see only woods and hills. I crossed to Redman’s Beach on the east side of the pond, where there were authorized campsites, set up camp, gathered my evening’s firewood and took a walk.

Redman’s Brook flows down from a low ridge to the beach and the pond. A trail runs along it; after a mile and a half, it intersects a loop trail connecting Black Mountain to the south to Caribou Mountain to the north. These two mountains are about two and a half miles apart. As the hiker trudges, the entire trip from Redman’s Beach to Caribou to Black and back to Redman’s Beach again is about nine miles, or six hours. I got back to camp at 7, cooked, ate, cleaned up, watched the light fade, crawled into the tent and slept.

I got up early the next morning, ate, broke camp, paddled to the south end of the pond, and hiked up Schoodic Mountain, just west of Black. I climbed Schoodic by one trail and came down it by another, a little more than two miles in all. Then I paddled back, getting to the boat landing before noon, almost exactly 24 hours after I had left it.

That is a bare outline. Here are some details:
Schoodic and Black Mountains are roughly 1,100 feet above sea level; Caribou is about 950. Caribou is halfway between Donnell Pond to the west and Tunk Lake to the east. Black and Schoodic mountains are much closer to Donnell, and form a sort of gunsight notch as you look southward down the pond.

The views from all three peaks are splendid. Mount Desert, Cadillac Mountain and Frenchman’s Bay lay to the south; Tunk Lake, big (2,000 acres), blue and undeveloped, lay eastward; Donnell Pond (1,100 acres, up to 100 feet deep – only in Maine would it be called a pond) was to the west. At least a dozen other lakes, ponds, tarns and deadwaters gleamed through the rolling and almost unbroken woodland to the north, east and west.

The views were also intimate: the pleasing little ravine of Redman’s Brook; the muted colors of early spring – lime-green aspens, red-flowered maples, russet-budded oaks, white-blossomed hobblebushes; the mats of mountain cranberry on the bald peaks; a vertical rock face that loomed up like a ruined temple in the woods, overgrown with moss and fern.

The intimate views also featured black flies, but were well worth it.

The intimate views featured no other hikers. But the whole loop trail appeared to have had little use, in or out of black fly season. The trail up Schoodic, directly accessible from a parking lot, was more heavily worn.

Fifteen miles from Ellsworth and 45 from Bangor, I heard no noise of man, woman, child or machine. I did hear osprey, crow, raven, ovenbird, robin and a warbler that requested anonymity. At night I heard the wind in the big pines around my tent, and two loons. But mostly I heard a positively ecclesiastical silence.

There was so much more to see, and much more to say about even what I did see. But I ran out of time, and now I have run out of space. Life’s like that, especially in May and in Maine.

Donnell Pond is one of 29 Public Reserved Lands managed by the Department of Conservation. These lands are managed for multiple uses, such as recreation, wildlife habitat, rare and threatened species and sustainable forestry. With the exception of those units within the North Maine Woods Inc. boundaries, there is no admission fee charged to users of Public Reserved Lands. For an informational brochure and trail map for Donnell Pond, call 287-3061 or e-mail dorothy.eaton@maine.gov.

Franklin Burroughs is a writer and professor emeritus of English at Bowdoin College. He lives in Bowdoinham.

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