Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on ice conditions, wind speed and how much of the pond you choose to explore.
Information: Perch Pond in Old Town is a shallow, 366-acre body of water with an undeveloped shoreline and adjacent wetlands. It has long been a place for canoeing and kayaking, fishing and ice skating.
The pond is accessible from Sewell Park, which was donated to the people of Old Town in 1963 by the children of James Wingate and Louise Gray Sewall, in their memory. The city-owned park now features a picnic area with drinking water access, field, parking lot, outhouse and boat launch.
On Old Town’s official website, Sewell Park is described as the city’s “hidden gem.”
Perch Pond — also known as Mud Pond (of which there are several in the state of Maine) — has a mean depth of 5 feet and a maximum depth of 12 feet, according to Lake Stewards of Maine, a nonprofit organization that monitors lake health throughout the state.
Because Perch Pond is shallow, it typically freezes over before large, deepwater lakes nearby, making it an early ice fishing and ice skating spot in the area. Information about ice thickness safety can be found on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website at maine.gov/ifw/.
The 841-acre Perch Pond Woodlot, owned and managed by the University of Maine, ecompasses nearly half the pond, wrapping around its east and south shore. Sewell Park is a block of land just to the west of the woodlot’s boundary, on the south end of the pond. The rest of the pond is hemmed in by wetlands. As a result, no buildings are located on the shore of the pond, which measures over 3.5 miles.
A warm water fishery, Perch Pond is home to white and yellow perch, as well as brook trout.
For more information, visit old-town.org or call 207-827-3965.
Personal note: You need just the right conditions to skate on wild ice. Your chosen pond or lake needs to be clear of snow, but it also needs to have a solid layer of ice on its surface. And preferably, that ice is smooth. In Maine, this only happens every once in a while, and when it does, I try to embrace it. So on Jan. 29 — a few days after a warm front melted away most of the snow near my home — I unearthed my ice skates and visited Perch Pond in Old Town.
A fellow BDN writer, John Holyoke, suggested Perch Pond to me because it’s shallow, which means the ice tends to freeze and accumulate faster than the many deep lakes in the region. When ice skating, my top priority is always ice safety.
To further minimize risk (and increase the fun), I invited my husband, Derek. Skating, like many outdoor activities, is always safer with a companion. We carried ice picks, which are hand-held safety devices you can use to pull yourself out of the water if you fall through the ice. We also carried a rope.
On the way to Perch Pond, we stopped by Gunn’s Sport Shop in Brewer, to get our skates sharpened. While there, we chatted with the owner, Rick Gunn, who informed us that most ice skates aren’t sold with sharpened blades. So Derek and I had been skating on unsharpened skates. Oops.
The wind was whipping through the plowed parking area in Sewall Park when we arrived. We were a little nervous about fighting the cold wind on skates. The high temperature that day was predicted at 26 degrees Fahrenheit. But we were committed to giving it a try.
“I thought I was crazy for being out here today,” a friendly ice fisherman said to us as we approached the ice, skates in hand. His yellow Labrador gave us a sniff. We laughed and wished him luck. He planned to set a few ice traps not far from shore, then sit in the warm cab of his truck, watching for a flag to rise.
Walking carefully on the ice along the edge of the pond, we entered a sheltered cove swapped our boots for skates. Just a few minutes into our adventure, I leaned back too far and my feet flew up in front of me. I landed flat on my back, banging my elbow in the process. It hurt, but not enough to ruin the day. Later, John suggested I wear a helmet when skating. It’s not a bad idea. I do seem to be accident-prone.
Leaving the cove, we skated into the wind, passing a few ice anglers and a half-melted, one-armed snowman on our way to the northwest end of the pond. We hugged the shore. In one spot, we explored natural paths of ice through low-lying brush. There we discovered a mound of sticks that must have been a muskrat or beaver lodge.
At the northwest end, we were careful not to skate too close to the mouth of the stream there. The ice is often weak near flowing water. We then turned toward the sun and let the wind push us back to Sewell Park. That’s the way to do it. Fight the wind in the beginning, then enjoy a nice, easy “sail” back.
How to get there: Take Interstate 95 Exit 193 to Stillwater Avenue in Old Town. Drive north on Stillwater Avenue for about 0.4 mile, then turn left onto Bennoch Road. Drive 0.6 mile, then turn left onto Kirkland Road. Drive 1.8 miles, passing under the interstate along the way, then turn left onto Poplar Street (heading toward Pushaw Lake). Drive 3.5 miles and the entrance to Sewell Park will be on your right, marked with a green sign. A narrow road forms a U-shape through the park, with a few side roads branching off to provide access to the lake with small parking areas.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.
The name of Sewall Park was misspelled in a previous version of this story.