Pushing off from the snowy shore, she glides out onto the frozen pond. The sun glistens off the ice, and a cold breeze carries sparkling snow crystals across its smooth surface. As she takes in the beauty of the winter landscape, her cheeks turn a rosy pink and her body starts to warm up from the exertion of ice skating.
With a tilt of her skates, she moves in a wide arc, turning back to shore. There, her date is lacing up his skates. He hands her a backpack, which contains some safety gear, extra layers of clothing and a thermos of hot chocolate. Then, they’re off to explore the pond, hand in hand.
Doing something active outside can be an excellent way to spend quality time with someone and get to know them better. And more specifically, ice skating is an activity that has a unique carefree quality to it — maybe because there’s often no real objective. The only goal is to glide and twirl and have fun.
In addition, ice skating is often nostalgic. In Maine, many people learn to skate when they’re young. And like riding a bike, it’s easy to pick back up again, even if it’s been years since you last tried it. Skating dredges up good memories, and that adds to the fun of it.
So as Valentine’s Day approaches and you’re looking for something to do with a loved one — or a potential loved one — consider seeking out an ice rink or frozen pond. Pack a picnic, bundle up and take them somewhere new. Here are a few ice skating destinations in and near Bangor that you may want to visit.
Just outside Bangor, this 461-acre pond is a great place to skate on “wild ice” or naturally-forming ice. A public boat launch and park, called Jackson Beach, lies on the west end of the pond with plenty of parking.
Hermon Pond is also a popular spot for ice fishing, which explains the many colorful ice shacks that are scattered across the ice each winter. These small buildings can serve as reference points while skating, helping you map a course. Just watch out for ice fishing holes; they can easily trip you up.
When skating on natural bodies of water, check to make sure that the ice is thick and solid enough to hold your weight. The Maine Warden Service offers online ice thickness guidelines which state that if the ice is clear, new and solid, it should be at least 4 inches thick for safe skating. To check ice thickness and quality, you can drill a hole with an auger or consult local residents or ice fishermen.
Common safety equipment for skating on wild ice includes a rope, whistle and ice picks, which are simple devices that you can use to pull yourself back onto the ice if you fall through. It’s also safer to skate with a companion than it is to skate alone. That way, if you fall through the ice or get injured, someone is there to help right away.
Directions: A public boat launch on Hermon Pond is located at Jackson Beach at the end of Jackson Beach Road in Hermon, at the west end of the pond. To get there, take I-95 Exit 174 and head west (you’ll technically be going north) on Route 69 (Hampden Road) about 1 mile. Then, turn right onto Hinckley Hill Road. Drive 1.2 miles, then turn left onto Newburg Road. Drive about 0.8 miles and turn right onto Jackson Beach Road, which is marked with a large sign for Jackson Beach. Drive to the end of the road, following the signs to the boat launch and parking area.
If you’re looking for an ice skating adventure that’s closer to civilization and doesn’t require checking ice thickness, you may want to visit one of Bangor’s many parks. Each winter, the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department creates and maintains outdoor ice rinks at Bangor Gardens Park, Broadway Park, Chapin Park, Fairmount Park and Stillwater Park — if conditions are right.
In order to create these rinks, the department needs a frozen ground and consistently cold weather. However, once the rinks have been established, they’re cleared of snow after storms. This means that they might be open to ice skating when ponds and lakes are not. And after you’re done skating, you can warm up in one of Bangor’s many restaurants.
Directions: Bangor Gardens Park is at the intersection of Knox Avenue and Sherman Avenue. Broadway Park is bisected by Broadway where it intersects with Stillwater Avenue. Chapin Park is beside Abraham Lincoln School and is bordered by Forest Avenue, Coombs Street and Parkview Avenue. Fairmount Park is bordered by Norway Road, Royal Road and two small residential streets called Fairmont Park W and Fairmont Park E. Stillwater Park is circled by Howard Street and Juniper Street. For all of these parks, there are parking spots along the streets that surround them.
Green Lake in Dedham and Ellsworth
Covering about 3,000 acres in Dedham and Ellsworth, Green Lake is so large that you could ice skate on it for hours and not explore it all. The lake’s major inlet is on its west end, with its outlet on its east end. If you start your adventure at the public boat launch on Nicolin Road, you’re right in the middle.
The lake features a few islands, which can serve as reference points or destinations as you skate. Just be careful while navigating around boulders or rocky shores; rocks absorb heat from the sun and can cause ice around it to melt. It’s also important to stay away from inlets and outlets, where flowing water may result in thinner ice.
Skating on lakes and ponds isn’t always smooth sailing. Wind can blow snow into tiny ridges that can catch your blades, and snowmobiles can create ruts in slush that then hardens into dangerous ripples. Keep your eyes on the ice in front of you to select the smoothest path. Also, it may be helpful to seek out sheltered coves where the water has frozen without much disturbance from wind.
It’s easy to get lost on a large lake. To prevent this, consider carrying a GPS device and compass and map — or not wandering far from where you accessed the body of water. It’s also helpful to identify landmarks on the shoreline near the access point.
Directions: From Route 1A in Ellsworth, between Branch and Green lakes, turn onto Nicolin Road and drive about 2.5 miles to the public boat launch, which will be on your right. Along the way, veer left at 1.6 mile to stay on Nicolin Road.
AISLINN SARNACKI is a staff writer for Bangor Metro and the editor of Act Out, a section of the Bangor Daily News. An expert on the Maine outdoors, she is author of the guidebooks “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Follow her adventures at bangordailynews.com/act-out.