May 22, 2018
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Watershed hike boosts value of nature

By Brad Viles, Special to the News

If you spend some time with the members of the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, a few things become obvious. For one, they are a bunch of folks who love their outdoors. They also are very familiar with the natural resources that surround them, particularly their watershed. When they invited the public to a hike a couple of weekends ago, I went along to discover more about the group, and to take another winter trip on snowshoes.

The morning we all met at the Reny’s parking lot in Belfast, the sky was cloudless. After Jim “Skip” Pendleton, president of the coalition, introduced himself and vice president Cloe Chunn introduced herself, we carpooled the two dozen of us who showed up to the start of the hike in Brooks, a few miles away. At the public boat launch on Sanborn Pond on Route 137, we all clamped into our snowshoes and set off across the pond.

Once on the pond, the group strung out at various distances apart. It looked pretty colorful with all those people crossing the frozen pond. There were a mixed lot of us which included high school students, about equally divided between men and women. I had hiked a ways before striking up a conversation with Dave Smith, a teacher and a member of the coalition. We talked about what a great day it was to be outdoors and the importance of the watershed as a resource.

Soon, we came to a point at the end of the pond where we stopped to gather up the stragglers before entering the woods. Skip reminded us that we were on private land with the landowner’s permission. Once in the woods between Sanborn Pond and the next frozen body, I got behind the others in single file. Occasionally the guy in front of me, known only as “Lightning,” a logger by profession, pointed out an owl’s nest high in a beech tree.

As we hiked through the woods, “Lightning” would stop and point out all sorts of natural events, ice-storm-damaged trees from 1998, pileated woodpecker holes and others. We arrived at the second pond on the hike, Ellis Pond, and again regrouped. Skip remarked that there are no camps on this pond and we soon moved on again. This time I strolled along beside Cloe and talked about how a hike like this is important for raising the public’s awareness.

“We say, ‘Come spend the day with us in the real world,’” she said. “Because this is where we come from and we still are totally dependent on the air, the water and the soil for everything that supports life.”

For that reason, Cloe said, a trip to the watershed calls attention to the natural systems around us. The public’s responses to the coalition’s organized hikes echo a common theme.

“People tell us about how uplifted they are by getting outdoors and spending the day on a hike,” she said.

We walked and talked about the ponds we were crossing.

“These ponds are the headwaters of the Passagassawakeag River, which flows into Belfast Bay. It’s one of four rivers that do so. The others are the Goose River, Wescot Stream and the Little River,” Cloe explained.

Then, after crossing the height of land between Ellis and Halfmoon, we arrived at the gem of the hike, Halfmoon Pond. The small, frozen body lies at the base of Pond Hill, a hill 800 feet high that sits on Lake Passagassawakeag, a short hike away. We crossed to the other end of the crescent-shaped pond, passing a beaver lodge along the way.

Once we were all at the other end, Skip explained that at the next intersection, some of the group would be led by him up Pond Hill for a longer, more strenuous hike. He had told us about this option when we first gathered at Reny’s. It would add about four more miles to the five-miler that the most of us would be hiking. At the intersection, about a half-dozen went with Skip. The rest of us went with Cloe, a guidebook author of “50 Hikes in Maine’s Mountains.”

I hiked with Skip a while before we split up and asked him about the group’s success in involving the public. Skip, a retired Central Maine Power worker, said, “We’ve been very successful in involving the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. The students there were instrumental in building the Little River Community Trail, a four-mile trail around the town’s reservoirs. The whole town uses it. The students also identified and painted storm drains.”

After we split up, we had a short hike to the Lake Passagassawakeag shore. A few of us sat on the bridge over the outlet or on the banks and had a lunch while Cloe took the others up the shore for a view. As we sat chatting and snacking in the early March sunshine, I realized that soon all this ice would be returning to water again with the arrival of spring. What a perfect time to visit a watershed.

Some precautions when traveling on ice in spring:

Two weeks ago we really didn’t need to check on ice thickness. The nights had been cold and temperatures in the daytime only slightly warmer. There was about four feet of ice, Skip reported.

Certainly over the next couple of weeks you will need to check on ice thickness if travelling on frozen bodies of water. The ice on coastal ponds like in Belfast or MDI will start clearing in the next couple of weeks, depending totally on warming temperatures and rainfall amounts. It is spring and at this time of year all ice should be considered unsafe due to changing conditions and caution should prevail.


Cloe Chunn (second from left), vice president of the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, stops for a break on the shore of Halfmoon Pond. She and her group participated on a day hike to the source of the Passagassawakeag River.

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