Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By JOHN CHRISTIE
Some 45 miles up scenic Route 27 from Kingfield lies a magical unit of the Maine Public Reserved Lands comprised of five interconnected ponds ideal for kayaking and fishing.
On a recent trip, I found some idyllic paddling and, although the recent warm weather had sent the fish a little lower than my dry flies could attract, I did find a stretch in some rapids just below the dam on the lowest of the ponds where I managed a few strikes.
Getting to the chain is almost half the fun, as you drive from Kingfield to Sugarloaf along the bank of the Carrabassett River, and over the two new bridges that replaced the ones taken out by the torrential rains accompanying Hurricane Irene nearly a year ago.
From there it's another 30 miles through Stratton, past the end of Flagstaff Lake in Eustis, and up the Arnold Trail along the Dead River nearly to the border crossing in Coburn Gore. Along the way, there's a pretty little rest stop at Sarampus Falls before you hit a newly improved, winding road along the east side of the ponds.
It's worth remembering that this is the preferred route for trucks hauling logs, lumber, chips and other cargo to and from Canada, so caution is advised as they don't seem to want to waste a lot of time enjoying the scenery and barrel along toward their destinations.
Since it's about three hours from Portland or Bangor to the ponds, it makes a pretty long day trip and you might want to consider camping at a wonderfully situated and appointed private campground on a spit of land bordering the two upper ponds, Round and Natanis. Comprised of 61 grassy sites capable of accommodating camper preferences from tents to big rigs, Natanis Point Campground has both shorefront and wooded sites strategically placed and separated to provide a perfect north woods camping experience. There's even a remote site to which you can paddle on Round Pond that provides just the kind of seclusion that some of us campers really appreciate.
Added to that is a 900-foot sandy beach on Natanis Pond, hiking on nearby Snow and Kibby mountains and, for you ATVers, direct access to about 150 miles of back-country riding.
But it's the kayaking that draws me to the chain, as the 5-mile run from north to south, from little Round Pond under the bridge leading to the campground, then down Natanis, Long, Bog and Lower ponds, is a paddler's delight. Islands dot the ponds and provide scenic variety while steep bluffs and cliffs along the way add to the allure.
Since all of the ponds are interconnected, no portaging is required, and, although on my recent trip there were some whitecaps on Natanis stirred up by a stiff southeasterly breeze, the ponds are well protected and generally very serene.
Since I was in my smaller freshwater kayak (better as a fly-fishing platform but sans spray skirt) and I was getting pretty wet heading into the breeze on Natanis after circumnavigating Round Pond, I opted to put the kayak back on the Jeep and drive down to the dam on Lower Pond and head back up the chain from there.
That turned out to be a great choice as the lower ponds were pretty placid, and I was able to see a few remote campsites within the Reserved Lands jurisdiction that beckoned for a future overnight.
If you opt to launch at the dam, look carefully for an unmarked gravel road on your left just a couple of hundred feet north of the Gold Brook Road and the bridge over the brook. The road is marked with a large sign indicating it's the route to the Kibby Mountain Wind Power Project, comprised of an array of wind turbines, three of which are visible as you paddle.
After finishing my day on the water, I uncased my rod and cast for a while in the rushing waters below the dam. For me, a strike is nothing more than a bonus.
Simply savoring the rhythm of the sport and enjoying the sounds of the stream as it dropped over the dam to the accompaniment of songbirds in the trees and bushes provided the perfect coda to a day in the kayak.
John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write about places to enjoy the beauty of Maine. He can be contacted at: