1-minute hike: Great Pond Mountain, East Orland

Difficulty: Moderate. Starting from the Stuart Gross Path trailhead, the hike is 1.5 miles of gradual incline to the mountain’s summit. However, parking is at Dead River Gate, meaning hikers must walk an additional 0.4 mile on the Don Fish Road to reach the trailhead. Hikers can also start at the Dead River Trailhead (at Dead River Gate) for a hike that is 3.5 miles to the mountain’s summit.

How to get there: From Route 1-Route 3 (Acadia Highway) in east Orland, turn onto Hatchery Road, which is a little more than a mile west of the intersection of Route 1-Route 3 and Route 15. Pass the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery is on your left. At the end of Hatchery Road, continue straight onto Don Fish Road (also called Nature Trails Road). Dead River Gate is 0.5 mile up Don Fish Road. A small parking area is located in front of the gate. This parking lot is open year round.

Information:The trail to the summit of Great Pond Mountain is partially located in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, 4,300 acres of wooded property in East Orland that was acquired by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust in June 2005 to be managed for wildlife habitat and low-impact recreation, such as hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, hunting (by registration), fishing, mountain biking, paddling and snowmobiling on some roads.

The Wildlands Campaign, completed in 2007, raised $2.86 million for the purchase of the property and to create a Wildlands Stewardship Fund.

The Wildlands is in two pieces. The 875-acre Dead River Section includes the western side of Great Pond Mountain and two miles along the banks of the Dead River. There are three miles of gravel road and hiking trails on this section, which is reached by Hatchery Road. The Great Pond Mountain Trail is partially located on this section. Sections of the trail, including the Stuart Gross Path and the summit of the mountain, are on private property.

West of the Dead River Section is the Wildland’s 3,420 Hothole Valley parcel. The valley lies between the peaks of Great Pond Mountain, Oak Hill, Flag Hill, Flying Moose Mountain, Hothole Mountain, Condon Hill, Mead Mountain and Hedgehog Hill. The valley is bisected by Hothole Brook, which winds through swamps and beaver meadows to feed into Hothole Pond. Fourteen miles of gravel roads are on the property, as well as hiking trails that lead to the top of Flag Hill, Flying Moose Mountain, Mead Mountain and Oak Hill.

In 2006, Alison C. Dibble (Stewards LLC) partnered with ecologist Catherine Rees to conduct a six-month natural resource inventory of the Wildlands. A report of the inventory states that 79 species of birds were found, as well as 14 vegetation communities recognized the the Maine Natural Areas Program. They recorded 400 species of vascular plants, including two listed rare plants. The report also notes bald eagle, woodcock, whip-poor-will, legacy trees, vernal pools and beaver flowages.

The report also includes a little bit about the property’s history. Hunting and fishing were probably carried out on the property for thousands of years by Native Americans.In a map from 1881, an intended route for a rail line is shown that would pass along the wetland at the east end of Hell Bottom Swamp, but this was never built. In more recent history, the Dead River and Hothole Valley parcels were managed for timber before being sold to the trust. The full report can be found at greatpondtrust.org/wildlands-policies-plans.

Access to the Wildlands is free. To learn about public use, ways to donate and to download a map, visit greatpondtrust.org. For information, call the GPMCT office at 469-7190 or e-mail info@greatpondtrust.org.

Personal note: Many BDN readers suggested this mountain to me for hiking year round, and I had heard from a few people that many trails in the Wildlands are good for snowshoeing. It turns out that my fellow Mainers were right. I suggest Great Pond Mountain to any Maine hiker or snowshoer looking for a moderately difficult trail. I look forward to exploring the other trails in the Wildlands.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.