It’s nice to have a big, mostly empty recreation area equal in distance to SeaCat’s Rest when compared to wildly popular Acadia National Park. I’m talking about Donnell Pond Public Reserve Land. This is an area of over 14,000 acres of isolated ponds, crystal clear lakes and mountains with panoramic views and the trails to get there. This compares with the 49,600 acres of Acadia, but it’s a guarantee that during the summer at least, the density of visitors there will be a tiny fraction of its big national brother. All this and a mere 22-1/2 miles north and east of here, about the same distance as Acadia NP in the other direction.
The big nature reserve came together with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation. In the early part of the last century Tunk Lake was a source for ice before refrigeration, and a large estate there belonged to famed Antarctic explore Admiral Richard E. Byrd. It was destroyed by fire in 1989. Now it all belongs to the people of Maine.
One thing which stands out when visitors take the obligatory trip to the top of Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is a high mountain in the distance called Schoodic Mountain, visible over Bar Island, just to the left of Bar Harbor down below. Just to the right of it is a lesser peak called Black Mountain. Both these peaks are in the Donnell Pond Reserve and both have trails to the top, and as you might guess, both offer a view of Acadia. There are several campsites on Donnell Pond with fire spots, privies and picnic tables. These are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and you can stay up to 14 days. Donnell Pond is also open to fishing and motor boats. Access to the main camping beach is by a 1/2 mile long foot trail, so if you have heavy items, you may want to use the boat launch site, out of the park’s boundaries.
I took the The Black Mountain Cliffs Loop (2.9 miles – allow 2 hours) from the Donnell Pond parking area on September 6 and took a few pictures. The trail is easy to follow but not easy. There are lots of twists and turns, wet stream beds, and an abrupt climb at the end, almost like a giant staircase. I was glad I brought water for the 900 foot climb, and comforted that I had my cell phone, since I encountered no one else. The trip back down was to the Donnell Pond’s (Schoodic) beach. Ironically, there was a busload of schoolkids making a constant racket there, which was a sound beacon guiding me back. I also had my car’s GPS with me which answered some direction questions when it seemed the trail markings were ambiguous. A compass would have worked just as well.
How to get there: Take US Rt. 1 east out of Ellsworth–follow the signs to Campobello Island. Drive about 10 miles to the bridge before Sullivan, then drive another 4-1/2 miles and take a left onto ME 183N. Drive for 4.3 miles and take a left on Schoodic Beach Road, bear left for another 2 miles and you will come to the parking lot.