I’ve made my home in a lot of different communities in Maine: Parsonsfield, Portland, South Paris, Orono, Mount Desert Island and, now, Sandy Point, to name a few. I’ve done a lot of exploring, too — poking around back roads and Jeep trails, climbing mountains, camping and paddling and swimming. At any given time, I’ve got three or four battered copies of DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer kicking around. I take some pride in having seen a lot of this beautiful state, given that I am and evermore shall be “from away.”
So it was with some surprise that I found myself last Sunday afternoon hiking around in one of the prettiest and most remote-feeling spots I’ve seen yet, just a short drive from my home in the midcoast. It was so lovely, and so empty, I almost don’t want to tell you where it is. But I will, because after all, it belongs to you.
The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Lands encompasses more than 14,000 acres between Franklin and Cherryfield in Hancock County. The initial 7,000-acre piece was one of the first acquisitions of the Land for Maine’s Future program, established by the Legislature in 1987 to protect and ensure public access to Maine’s most scenic natural landscapes. LMF purchased the remainder of the parcel when it became available in 1994.
Since then, LMF has protected more than 570,000 acres through a combination of outright purchase and the acquisition of conservation easements, in parcels ranging in size from about 500 acres to more than 43,000 acres, according to the program’s website. There are LMF projects in each of Maine’s 16 counties, including farms, shoreland, working forests, old railroad corridors and access points to salt and fresh water, as well as wild tracts of mountains and lakes like the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Lands. Funding for these properties comes primarily through Maine voter-approved bonds, though there have been some holdups recently in releasing those bonds.
I have a couple of favorite pieces of Public Reserved Lands, including the popular Bold Coast parcel in Washington County and the immense and diverse Nahmakanta parcel between Millinocket and Moosehead Lake. After last Sunday, I’m officially adding Donnell Pond to that short list.
Douglas and I parked at the trailhead of the Big Chief Trail up Black Mountain, which has a summit height of 1,648 feet. The trail, clearly marked with blue paint blazes, led steeply up through a forest of spruce and hemlock. Within a few minutes, we were high enough to get dramatic views of Tunk Lake, which is part of the public parcel, from ledgy overlooks just off the trail.
We kept climbing and emerged from the trees onto an open granite sub-summit with more expansive views. The trail here was marked with big stone cairns, impossible to miss. We followed a loop trail that dipped back down below the treeline and then spilled us out onto the Black Mountain summit, where there was a 360 degree view of nothing but more lakes, more trees and more mountains, with a shimmer of what might have been Narraguagus Bay off to the east.
We continued the on the loop trail across more smooth, open sheets of granite, past a tiny, pristine pond nestled in the cup of the ledges, down through the conifer woods and eventually back to our car. The whole hike lasted about an hour and a half. We were home and fixing dinner 45 minutes later.
The Donnell Pond parcel offers many more miles of trail to explore, as well as two large lakes, several smaller ponds, long stretches of sandy beach, camping, boating and more. I look forward to exploring this lovely property in the future, and to visiting other parcels protected and and made available to the public through the Land for Maine’s Future program.
I am a huge fan of public lands — parks, forests and monuments, national, state and municipal. I recognize that land in private ownership may be and often is shared with the public, but that access is a privilege that can be restricted and withdrawn at the whim of the landowner.
On the other hand, properties held in the public trust, like Donnell Pond, Baxter State Park and the newly designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, extend an open invitation. They provide designated parking areas, thoughtfully laid-out trails, maps, camping areas and other amenities that make it easy to visit and enjoy them. They’re forever protected against development, abuse and mismanagement, and I can trust they’ll be there for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to explore and enjoy.
This land is my land, and it’s your land, too. What’s not to love about that?