TOWNSHIP 9, SD – Peter and Teresa Austin didn’t know the story of Patrick Natale and Jenni DeSio, who camped some 200 yards away at Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land.

It was just coincidence that for each, their August weekend at this wild area was special.

The Austins of Ellsworth had come back to Donnell Pond for the first time in five years. Peter Austin enjoyed visits to the reserve in his youth, and had shared it with his children. But when high school sports became more of a priority, the Austins spent less time in the 14,000 acres where they swam, hiked and fished.

“There were three to four families whose kids grew up together. We planned a weekend one time that had 20 kids. We pretty much filled the beach. We had T-shirts made for the annual camp trip,” Peter Austin said.

This summer, their son was about to leave for college and wanted to return to Donnell Pond with his family.

For DeSio and Natale from New Jersey, Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land was a stopover. But it turned into a week-long stay.

The avid campers have spent vacations across the country, camping in public lands where states manage forestland and allow the public to camp, hike and fish for free. They found Donnell Pond while looking for such a spot on the way to Nova Scotia. They fell in love with the crystal clear pond and the mountains surrounding it, and couldn’t leave.

“Maine has a peace I haven’t found anywhere. We’ve been looking for a place to relocate to. It might be Maine,” said DeSio of Trenton, N.J.

Public reserved lands, as we know them, were created in 1973. Most of the reserves are free, the cost of maintaining them coming from timber management.

For those Mainers who live a short drive from one of the state’s 37 public reserved lands, these wild and protected parcels are a bit of heaven: Beautiful open space.

But to thousands who live near the state’s population centers these wild lands could be a mystery, perhaps because there are just two in southern and central Maine.

Between Gray and North Yarmouth, Pineland is a 600-acre public reserve land and the southern-most piece; and 520-acre Dodge Point in Newcastle is the only such land in the midcoast.

Meanwhile, there are another 35 parcels amounting to some 590,000 acres, some as big as 40,000 acres.

The reserved lands have become more a part of the public consciousness because of Land for Maine’s Future funds, which help to pay for new acquisitions, said Tom Morrison, director of operations for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

But they remain unknown to many, Morrison said.

“At a local and regional level, folks know about them, but on the statewide level, there’s a percentage of the population that don’t have a good understanding of these lands and how they can be used by the public,” Morrison said. “Over time, there has been more and more information out there for the public, to try to help them become aware of these resources.”

However, in western and northern Maine, public reserved lands offer huge sections of protected wilderness for hiking and camping, boating, hunting and fishing. They are around Seboomook Lake up north of Greenville and the Bigelow Mountain Range, as well as in places across the Rangeley Lakes.

The Donnell Pond land is located about three miles off Route 1, near the end of Tunk Lake Road and feels far away. But it’s just a 30-minute drive to Ellsworth.

To one side is Schoodic Mountain rising above, a favorite hike of locals. To the east are wooded trails that lead to other primitive camp sites, another beach that can only be reached by boat, and in the distance, Black Mountain, which at 1,050 feet is just shy of Schoodic’s summit.

For Patrick Natale and Jenni DeSio, it was not the end of a road, but the beginning of a new adventure.

“We’ll be back. We’re going to come this fall, after tourist season,” Natale said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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