Difficulty: Easy to strenuous, depending on how much of the waterway you choose to explore, the height of the water level and the weather (especially the wind). From the boat launch, it’s more than 2 miles of paddling to reach the far end of the pond, but there are a few landmarks that can serve as turn-around points along the way if you’re aiming for a shorter trip. Also, you may need to portage (carry your boat) over a beaver dam early in your paddle.
Information: A long, narrow body of water that features interesting rock formations and plenty of beaver activity, First Pond is the lowermost of a chain of four ponds in the town of Blue Hill. These ponds — First, Second, Third and Fourth — are connected by Carleton Stream.
A public hand-carry boat launch is located at the south end of First Pond, providing access for small boats such as kayaks and canoes when the water level is high enough.
Because First Pond is so narrow, there’s some debate about where the south end of First Pond officially begins. Lake Stewards of Maine place the south end of the pond at the boat launch, which makes the pond 207 acres. But a survey conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife maps the pond as covering just 93 acres and considers the narrow, southernmost portion (and boat launch area) to be a part of Carleton Stream.
From the boat launch, the only direction you can safely paddle is north, upstream. Heading south, Carleton Stream narrows and plunges downhill over rocks to empty out into the nearby Salt Pond. That portion of the stream isn’t easily navigable by boat.
As you paddle north, the narrow waterway will wind through an expanse of pickerel weed and other aquatic plants to arrive at an impressive beaver dam. While the dam has been cleared away somewhat in the center, you’ll likely need to portage over the dam to continue north. For that reason, this type of adventure may not be for everyone.
From that point onward, the waterway widens though it remains quite shallow in many places, allowing for aquatic plants such as spatterdock and water-lilies to grow. A number of impressive beaver lodges are dotted throughout the waterway. Large boulders and hills of exposed granite along the shore make for interesting scenery.
Eventually you’ll come to a small island, which features a granite slope by the water (perfect for landing your boat and stretching your legs), a few granite boulders, dense bushes, a tall white pine tree and a few smaller trees. East of the island is Duck Marsh, where you’ll find carnivorous pitcher plants lining the edge of the open water.
Beyond the island, the waterway narrows again before entering what the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife survey considers to be First Pond. The body of water widens and becomes deeper, with a maximum depth of 37 feet. Along the shore are a few houses and docks, though there are areas of the pond that remain undeveloped, including a marshy area on the pond’s east side.
First Pond is also known as Billings Pond and is home to a variety of fish, including brook trout, minnows, sunfish and eels. For a map, visit lakesofmaine.org and click the “Your Lake” tab to use the search tool.
Personal note: Daisies and wild blue irises brushed against our legs as we carried our kayaks down to the boat launch for Carleton Stream and First Pond on June 14. Eager to embrace the sunny day by going for a paddle, I selected the body of water using my Delorme atlas. My husband, Derek, agreed to join me, even though we had never been to the location before — and it turned out to be a bit of an adventure.
Picking our way carefully over rocks, we set our small boats in the water and managed to clamber inside them without flipping them over. (Though for a moment, as my foot dangled in the water and my kayak wobbled precariously, I worried I might go for a swim.) We then paddled north, through a narrow winding waterway. With the green spear-like leaves of pickerel weed all around us, I felt as if I were in a jungle where an alligator might swim around the bend at any moment. But of course, being in Maine, a beaver would have to suffice — and there were plenty of signs that they lived in the area. Throughout our paddle, we came across at least five beaver lodges, though I assume some were old and abandoned by the lack of fresh material on them.
In some places, the water was so shallow that our kayaks caught on thick beds of aquatic plants, but we managed to muscle our way forward until we met a serious obstacle: a beaver dam. At that point, we almost turned around to find another waterway to explore. But after some discussion, we decided to try and portage. With care, we docked our kayaks against the dam — which was built out of sticks and mud — then stepped out onto the beaver-made structure and heaved our boats over to the other side. Again, by some miracle, we didn’t go for an accidental swim.
Continuing onward, we enjoyed more open water and explored the edge of Duck Marsh, where I found the deep red blossoms of carnivorous pitcher plants hanging on tall, thin stems. Looking down into the clear water, we spied a number of fish as they wove through water-lily stems. Green frogs called from the shore, their vocalizations sounding like the twang of rubber bands. And a number of birds serenaded us, though we usually couldn’t spot them.
We stopped on a small island to rest and have a snack. Sitting on a granite slope, we watched whirligig beetles skate over the surface of the water and knock into each other like bumper cars. We also saw two spotted sandpipers walking over a jumble of nearby rocks. Perhaps they were nesting on the island.
From there, we turned back and paddled against a light wind to return to the boat launch. Just as we were hauling our boats to shore, I noticed a eastern painted turtle wandering around in the grass. Then I became distracted by a white crab spider perched on a daisy, its legs dusted with pollen. But we did eventually get our kayaks secured in the bed of our truck for the ride home. In nature, there’s always time for a few detours.
How to get there: From the roundabout (rotary) in Blue Hill near Tradewinds Marketplace, head southeast on Route 172-Route 175 (South Street). Drive 4.6 miles, then turn right onto a gravel drive, which is marked with a sign directing you to the boat launch. The boat launch is at the end of the rough gravel road, which is about 0.2 mile long and travels through a beautiful field.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her 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.