1-minute paddle: Silver Lake in Bucksport

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on how far you choose to paddle, the weather conditions and how far from shore you venture. On a windy day, the waves and wind will generally be stronger the farther you paddle from shore, and this will make paddling more difficult.

How to get there: The public boat launch for Silver Lake is located on Silver Lake Road in Bucksport, approximately 1.6 miles south of where Silver Lake Road intersects with Town Farm Road. If coming from the south, from Main Street in downtown Bucksport, turn onto McDonald Street (across from Sawyer Auto Sales) and drive 2.1 miles to the boat launch. Along the way, McDonald Street becomes Silver Lake Road. The boat launch includes a concrete ramp and a long wooden dock. Parking is not permitted at the launch. Unloading and loading of boats is limited to 10 minutes. A parking lot is located 200 feet down the road, to the south.

Boat launch GPS coordinates: 44.601391, -68.793760

If interested in viewing a map of the lake, here’s one by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and another by the Maine Audubon.

Information: Covering about 680 acres, Silver Lake in Bucksport is a man-made body of water that serves as a place to fish and paddle, as well as the town’s water source.

The lake was created in the late 1900s to supply a nearby paper mill with water needed for certain industrial processes. To create the lake, trees were cut and a pond on the property was dammed, then water was drawn in from the nearby Alamoosook Lake and Toddy Pond through pipelines. The water was then fed to the mill through another pipe. For decades, water circulated like this through Silver Lake.

In 2014, Verso Paper mill closed, putting a stop to the constant flow of water, but the lake remains as Bucksport’s largest body of water, treasured by local residents as a place for recreation.

“There was a concern when the mill stopped operating that might impact the water quality, but that’s proven not to be the case,” said Susan Lessard, Bucksport Town Manager. “The water quality is good. It hasn’t been negatively impacted.”

Spatterdock, a common aquatic plant in Maine.

In 2018, the Maine-based Whole Oceans purchased most of the closed paper mill with plans to build a $250 million salmon farm. Whether or not this facility will draw water from Silver Lake as the mill once did is still unclear, Lessard said. But the lake continues to be the town’s water supply through a pipeline owned by Maine Water Co.

As is the case with many man-made lakes, Silver Lake is fairly shallow, with much of it less than 20 feet deep. The lake is especially shallow at its north end, where submerged stumps and small islands make it a tricky place for motor boats to navigate but great spot for paddlers to explore and find wildlife, including muskrats, loons and a variety of ducks.

The deepest part of the lake is at its south end, near the dam, where the depth measures 33 feet.

While the lake is a popular fishing and paddling spot for locals, it’s not particularly busy. In fact, if you go for a paddle there, you may find that you have the lake all to yourself. One reason the lake is so quiet is that the entire shoreline is under resource protection zoning, which doesn’t allow development close to the water. Therefore, there are no private docks on the lake, and the few houses visible from the water are set far back from the shore.

The town owns two significant chunks of land on the lake, including a 67-acre park that features a network of hiking trails and a hand-carry boat launch. Known as Silver Lake Trails, this park is located about halfway up the lake on the eastern shore and offers a place for paddlers to stop and stretch their legs.

For anglers, the lake is full of warm-water game fish, including smallmouth and largemouth bass, chain pickerel and white perch, according to the Lake Stewards of Maine. Each February, an ice fishing derby is organized on the property by the local Buck’s Mills Rod & Gun Club.

The lake is also home to a variety of birds. Loons have consistently been found in the lake during the Maine Loon Count, which takes place each July. In addition, bald eagles and ospreys nest near the shore, and a few small wetland areas attract birds that nest in marsh vegetation, including red-winged blackbirds.

A common loon in Silver Lake.

Swimming is not permitted in Silver Lake because it is the town’s water supply. Motor boats are permitted but should exercise caution, especially in the north end of the lake, where it is most shallow.

For more information about Silver Lake, call the Bucksport Town Office at 207-469-7368.

Personal note: As we paddled our red canoe away from the public dock, leaving the shelter of the narrow cove, the wind picked up. Whipping up waves on the surface of the lake and goosebumps on my bare arms, it pushed against our boat, prompting us to paddle harder as we made our way to the nearest island in Silver Lake.

“I’ll take the wind over bugs,” I said to my husband, Derek, who was paddling and steering in the stern.

In late spring, the black flies and mosquitoes in Maine can drive a person mad. Even if you’re wearing bug repellent, black flies will zip into your eyes and up your nose, while mosquitoes hover around your head, their wings emitting a high-pitched whine. And if there’s a patch of your skin left unprotected, they’ll find it. By the time you feel them biting, it’s too late. The deed is done and the itching begins.

Sweeping away these biting flies, the wind is heaven sent, even when it makes paddling difficult.

On Saturday, it was our first time exploring Silver Lake by Boat, though I’d seen the body of water several times by land while hiking Silver Lake Trails. I got the idea to paddle it from my copy of “Quiet Water Maine: Canoe & Kayak Guide” by Alex Wilson and John Hayes. The authors described the lake as quiet and full of opportunities to view wildlife.

Our paddle, roughly.

Using the map provided in the book, Derek and I navigated around the largest island in the lake, located at the north end, then wove through some smaller islands, for a meandering paddle of between 4 and 4.5 miles. Along the way, we spotted at least five different loons, preening and fishing in different parts of the lake. We also watched an osprey soar overhead, and a double-crested cormorant dry its wings by holding them out to both sides as it stood on a half-submerged stump.

A double-crested cormorant seen from afar.

Among the smaller islands, we found several red-winged blackbirds singing as they hopped about in the cattails and tall grass, likely tending their nests. And partially hidden in the vegetation, we spotted the skeleton of a deer, bleached by the sun.

The deer skeleton

Further evidence of wildlife we came across included a mound of dead vegetation and ticks, which I guessed to be a muskrat’s den; a large osprey nest atop a nearby power line pole; and the low rumbling call of bullfrogs.

What I think is a muskrat den.

Overall, the paddle was a success, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The wind that we mostly viewed as a blessing also caused us some trouble. As we rounded the bend of one island, we were taken by surprise when a gust caught the side of our boat and pushed us to the shore, where I became tangled in an overhanging tree.

“Pull! Pull!” Derek shouted at me from the stern.

“What do you mean? I don’t know what you mean!” I shouted back, shielding my eyes from the branches that were raking over my head and snagging in my hair. “I’m stuck in a tree!”

Derek had meant for me to paddle in a way that pulled the water toward the canoe, but it was far too late for that. Instead, we let the wind carry us backward until I was free of the vegetation, then took a deep breath and carried on, trying not to be caught sideways in the wind again.

I think the people fishing from a small motorboat nearby — the only people we saw during our entire paddle — witnessed this brief shouting match. I hope they had a good chuckle. Maybe they could even relate. I imagine frustrating moments and small arguments are fairly common when two people are canoeing in the wind, especially if they’re somewhat new at canoeing, which Derek and I are. We’re getting better, though. One trip at a time.

More photos:

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.