Acadia's Forgotten Lakes
You wouldn't think two million people could miss something so obvious. Yet each summer a surprising number of travelers overlook the park's twenty-six lakes and ponds, from the so-called "great" ponds to smaller water bodies like the Tarn and Aunt Betty Pond. The lakes of Acadia comprise more than 7 percent of the island and yet manage to hide in plain sight, their 2,600 acres of aquatic splendor overshadowed by the park's bold ocean cliffs and granite-topped mountains. For those willing to venture a few steps off the Park Loop Road, these natural gems each offer an experience as unique as the island itself.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Size: 187 acres
Maximum depth: 150 feet
Water visibility: 46 feet
If Mount Desert Island is Maine's celebrity island - the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Fords put the island in the spotlight long before Martha Stewart moved in - then Jordan Pond is its Walk of Fame. Since its creation in 1864, the Jordan Pond House has drawn such sitting presidents as William Howard Taft, aristocrats like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Hollywood types like Chuck Norris and Beau Bridges. They all come to sample the tea and popovers and stare out at the blue water and the well-endowed, twin pink granite peaks known as the Bubbles. But to truly appreciate this gem of Acadia you need to follow the one-mile Jordan Pond Nature Trail around the pond's perimeter. Park officials estimate that about 60 percent of visitors will stop by Jordan Pond at some point during their stay, yet even in August only four hundred people a day make it out onto the trail. A network of narrow, split-log bridges keeps walkers suspended above the marshy wetlands and allows them to take in the water lilies and schools of golden shiner minnows that fill the shallows. With some of the clearest water in Maine - visibility of up to sixty feet has been recorded here - you might even spot a brookie moving way down deep. Loons and common mergansers nest in this area, and the Jordan Cliffs are home to one of the park's nesting pairs of peregrine falcons. But this scenic spot happens to also be the water supply for Seal Harbor, so while you can paddle about if you want, swimming is prohibited, and pets are to be kept out of the water.
The power that Jordan Pond can have on artistic visitors has been well-proven over the years - especially if they came from the music colony in nearby Seal Harbor. "My mother had a recollection from when she was a child of having to sit on the veranda at the Jordan Pond House and not go inside because the maestro had had an inspiration and was composing," remarks Bob Pyle, director of the Northeast Harbor Library. "[The composer] was Fritz Kreisler, and she even remembered the tune - it was `Apple Blossoms,' which ended up being one of his more popular pieces."
Size: 897 acres
Maximum depth: 113 feet
Water visibility: 33 feet
As America's second-smallest national park (at a mere 48,000 acres), Acadia can seem a bit too cozy at times, which is precisely when you should venture to Long Pond. The island's largest lake is accessible by dirt road at its south end (you can actually pop over from comparatively busy Echo Lake without getting back on the highway), or else off Route 102 between Pretty Marsh and Somesville. Here you'll find the wilder side of Acadia, whether you choose to paddle the full four-mile-long length of the pond, take a picnic lunch to Rum Island, or else watch the wood ducks feeding in the many coves and inlets. Anglers will particularly enjoy the bass and landlocked salmon stocked by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, as a quirk of seventeenth-century law dictated that Acadia's great ponds be managed by the state. But don't worry about high-powered fishing boats destroying the tranquility of Long Pond, two-thirds of which lies within the park boundaries; motors are limited to no more than ten horsepower on Long Pond, just as they are on the other large lakes of Acadia. A few camps are tucked into the shore, especially at the northern end of the pond, but these cabins hardly detract from the overall natural beauty of the area.
"It's absolutely awesome out there," remarks Brian Hamor, who has been renting a fleet of forty boats from his National Park Canoe & Kayak Rental in Mount Desert for the past twelve years. "Both Mansell and Beech Mountain come right down into the pond, so it's almost like paddling down Somes Sound, like canoeing down a fjord."
This pond, too, serves as a municipal water supply, and therefore the residents of Southwest Harbor appreciate visitors keeping pollution and impact to an absolute minimum. Swimming is prohibited within a thousand feet of the water intake, unless of course you are a mink, ferret, or one of the other semi-aquatic creatures that call Long Pond home.
Size: 437 acres
Maximum depth: 110 feet
Water visibility: 36 feet
If there is one word that describes Eagle Lake, it would have to be pristine. Located just a couple of miles up Route 233 from Bar Harbor, this particular pond has served for more than a century as the source of the tourist town's drinking water. And as such, it has come to represent the delicate d`tente that has emerged between developers and conservationists on Mount Desert Island. Even as rusticators' estates and, later, hotels and camps spread across the island during the nineteenth century, Eagle Lake - named by artists of the Hudson River School for the eagles spotted soaring overhead - remained relatively pristine, save for the Lake House and Curran House, two small hotels. The small steamer Wauwinnet brought guests across the lake to the Green Mountain Cog Railroad, which briefly made a run up Cadillac Mountain. By the turn of the century, however, the railroad was gone and the Wauwinnet lay at the bottom of the lake.
In 1910, though, rusticator Philip Livingston's proposal to build a cottage on the lake's east shore caused local conservationists such as George B. Dorr to take note. "While the threat might be small in and of itself, they feared it was a harbinger of other cottages that would soon follow," wrote a National Park Service report in 2005. Dorr, considered the father of Sieur de Monts National Monument and later Acadia National Park, joined the Bar Harbor Water Company and helped it buy up all of the land surrounding the lake, eventually including Livingston's property, as a way to safeguard against a typhoid outbreak like the one that hit Bar Harbor wells in 1873. The only man-made incursion near the lake in the past three-quarters of a century has been the construction of Rockefeller's carriage roads, an alteration that has proven to provide access without intrusion, as some 30 percent of all users of the carriage roads enter through the Eagle Lake gate. (A third gate lodge, in addition to the one at Jordan Pond and Brown Mountain Gate Lodge, near Northeast Harbor, was planned for this spot but was never built.)
Because the lake continues to provide municipal drinking water swimming is prohibited, though anglers may fish for the togue, landlocked salmon, and brook trout stocked regularly.
Seal Cove Pond
Size: 283 acres
Maximum depth: 44 feet
Water visibility: 20 feet
With its shallow waters and marshy shores, Seal Cove Pond is a natural oasis on Mount Desert Island's extreme west side. "It's definitely in contrast to Jordan Pond or Bubble Pond or some of the more famous lakes that are on the east side of the island," explains Bill Gawley, a biologist with the National Park Service. "Seal Cove Pond certainly has a lot more going on, which makes it a lot more interesting biologically." Warm water fish like bass, perch, and sunfish make their home in these shallow waters, which in turn draw bald eagles, ospreys, and loons looking for an easy meal.
The drive to Seal Cove Pond, if you come from the east side of the island, may end up being half the adventure. Many of the roads are dirt, and it might take you a couple of hours to make it from Bar Harbor if you come through Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor.
You'll do better to come down Route 102 from Pretty Marsh; keep an eye out for moose, as this is about as likely a spot as any on the island to see the lumbering woods denizens. Even in high summer only about twenty-five people a day make it to the roads around Seal Cove Pond, so you're likely to feel as alone as if you were deep in the Allagash. Camps and private property are mostly on the western side of the pond, so exploration is best done on the east side, where you can stop and rest on national park land.
Perhaps more than any other lake or pond in Acadia, Seal Cove Pond represents the dramatic diversity of plant and animal life found on Mount Desert Island. With elevation ranging from sea level to 1,530 feet atop Cadillac Mountain, a maritime environment that consistently supplies nourishing fog and humidity, and a sea breeze that maintains cooler growing seasons and warmer winters, Acadia sustains a representative range of 2,500 miles, encompassing plants of the arctic, Canadian zone, and southern coastal plain. To discover it and its lakes and ponds is to discover an island like none other.
Size: 237 acres
Maximum depth: 66 feet
Water visibility: 30 feet
For those seeking a way to cool off during the summertime, Echo Lake, on the west or "quiet" side of Mount Desert Island, offers top-notch, lifeguard-protected swimming. Lifeguard counts indicate that some 40 percent of the 13,000 visitors to the Echo Lake swimming area, on the south side of the lake just off Route 102 near Southwest Harbor, put their swimsuits to use in the seventy-degree water (in contrast to the just 10 percent of visitors to Sand Beach who brave the fifty-five-degree ocean water there). Families are enticed by Echo Lake's gently sloping sand beach that is ideal for the younger set (older kids may enjoy leaping from the ledges at Ike's Point just up the lake a bit, though rangers urge extreme caution), brand-new changing rooms, and the dramatic steep backdrop of Beech and Acadia mountains. A wooden pathway provides a handicapped-accessible entrance to the water, while the lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day help keep the volleyball games in control and answer such simple questions as how to decipher the free bus schedules and where the best hiking trails are located. One of the more interesting features of this area includes the fire tower on the summit of Beech Mountain, a three-story structure first built in 1941 and occasionally open to the public (ask the lifeguards if the Beech Cliffs trail is open, as it may be closed to protect nesting peregrine falcons).
Richard Rechholtz, the park ranger who oversees lifeguards in the park, says that while Echo Lake provides swimmers with a welcome break from the busy and sometimes blustery conditions at Sand Beach, it's hardly as tranquil as it once was, as evidenced by the parking lot, which usually fills by noon. "I grew up here, and the west side of the island used to be quieter, but it's not so much now," he remarks. "Come the middle of summer, both sides of the island are busy these days."
- By: Joshua F. Moore