Acadia National Park may be the most well known area for outdoor recreation in Hancock County, but it’s certainly not the only destination with memorable views and hiking trails.
The Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, a 4,500-acre nature preserve just off Route 1 in the western Hancock County town of Orland, offers its own scenic landscapes, ranging widely from a bald summit and pristine pond to rushing streams and beaver meadows. The diverse footpaths vary from family-friendly to more strenuous walks.
The Wildlands are owned and managed by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, a nonprofit group founded in 1993 by Stuart Gross. The trust purchased 4,300 acres from Dale Henderson Logging Co. in 2005 and added 200 more acres in 2012.
An Orland resident whose ancestor founded the town, Gross was quite fond of Great Pond Mountain, sometimes hiking to the summit more than once a day, trust Executive Director Cheri Domina said. It was his love of the land that inspired him to form the land trust.
“He just realized how special the area around Great Pond Mountain was,” Domina related. “How it was undeveloped, how so many people enjoyed it, how it was just so beautiful to look down on from the top of Great Pond Mountain.”
Sadly, Gross died eight years before the trust acquired the Wildlands. A path leading to Great Pond Mountain Trail, which emerges on the mountaintop, is named for Gross.
Although Great Pond Mountain is no Cadillac Mountain — it stands at 1,020 feet — it provides a more peaceful, out-of-the-way experience with panoramic views.
“You can walk around the top of the mountain and get different views,” Domina explained. “On a really clear day, in May or June when there’s still snow on Mount Katahdin, you can see Mount Katahdin.”
Abundant wildlife is found throughout the preserve. Porcupines are “pretty much a guaranteed wildlife sighting,” especially late in the day, the director said.
Visitors can observe plenty of beaver activity and hear the calls of warblers, whippoorwills and woodpeckers, among others.
Larger animals such as deer, bears, coyotes, bobcats and moose also live or pass through the preserve.
“A lot of people saw bears last year,” Domina said. “Moose are a little harder to see…I see their tracks, but I have yet to actually see one in here. Other people do see them.”
The land itself can offer lessons, too. Much of the landscape was shaped probably by the last known glacier in the area — about 10,000 years ago.
“One of the neat things about this property is that it’s kind of a geological showcase,” Domina said. “You can see lots of glacial erratics through the property, and if you climb Great Pond Mountain, there’s a lot of great examples of [glacial] polishing.”
Domina has been a member of the land trust since its founding and became the executive director in 2006. Originally from Dearborn Heights, Mich., she now lives in Orland with her husband, Christ, teenage daughters, Lucie and Liz, and Australian shepherd, Molly.
For easy family outings, Domina recommends biking the Hothole Pond Trail, a 1.4-mile gravel path that passes through a small quarry, a meadow and skirts a beaver pond. She said picking blueberries is another fun activity along the Great Pond Mountain Trail.
For the more adventurous hiker, ascend Oak Hill Path, a narrow trail, which splits off from the Hillside Trail, and leads to the west summit of Oak Hill. The meadow at the top offers sweeping views of Hothole Valley, Great Pond and Mead mountains and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge over Penobscot Bay. Click here for a trail map.
The Wildlands can be accessed through the South Gate on Route 1, the North Gate on Bald Mountain Road or the Dead River Gate on Don Fish Road just past the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery.
The aquatically inclined can also enter the preserve via boat on the Dead River.
Great Pond Mountain Wildlands
Where: Town of Orland
Access: South Gate (Route 1 just west of Route 176 intersection),
North Gate (Bald Mountain Road just west of Winkumpaugh Road) and
Dead River Gate (Don Fish Road just past Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery)
Parking: Motorists can park at all three gates. On weekends through September and Sundays through October, vehicles may drive in and park near trailheads at the South Gate.
Dogs allowed: Dogs must be leashed. They are not allowed on Hothole Brook or Great Meadow trails.
Hiking: Paths are for foot traffic only. Bicycles and horses are permitted on trails.
Prohibited: ATVs, dirt bikes and off-road vehicles.
Hunting: Hunters must register with Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.
Camping and fires: Contact the trust to make camping reservations or secure a fire permit
Flora and fauna: Collecting of live plants and animals is prohibited.
Contact: 469-6929, www.greatpondtrust.org