1-minute hike: Partridge and Ducktail ponds in Amherst

Difficulty: Moderate. The loop hike that leads to both Partridge and Ducktail ponds is approximately 3.5 miles long and includes a 0.8-mile stretch of gravel road spanning between two trailheads. The trails are fairly wide and well-marked with blue blazes, but there is a noticeable change in elevation. Rocky terrain adds to the challenge.

How to get there: From the intersection of Route 9 and Route 181 in Amherst, drive west on Route 9 for 1.5 miles and turn right (north) onto Ducktail Pond Road, which is also known as Ducktail Pond Lane. (This turn is on the left approximately 22 miles from the traffic light at the intersection of Route 9 and State Street in Brewer).

amherst111613-1A short distance down the gravel Ducktail Pond Road, you will come to a group of three large signs on the right. One of the signs gives the mileage to the different trailheads in Amherst Mountains Community Forest: Partridge Pond Trailhead is in 1.6 miles; Ducktail Pond Trailhead and Indian Camp Stream Day Use Area is in 2.4 miles; and the Bald Bluff Mountain Trailhead is 5.9 miles. For the loop hike that visits both Partridge and Ducktail ponds, you can park at either the Partridge Pond Trailhead or Ducktail Pond Trailhead.

Ducktail Pond Road is not plowed in the winter. Snowmobiles use the road. However, skiers and recreationists sometimes park at the end of the road and ski or snowshoe the road to the trails.

where111613-22Information: Ducktail Pond and Partridge Pond are two remote bodies of freshwater that lie in the Amherst Mountains Community Forest, nearly 5,000 acres of state-owned land managed for sustainable forestry, wildlife and outdoor recreation. Both ponds are accessible by blazed trails, which are open to the public for free year round.

To visit both ponds, hikers can start from either the Partridge Pond Trailhead or Ducktail Pond Trailhead. For this trail description, I will start from Partridge Pond Trailhead, which has a small parking area and is marked by a tall trailhead sign.

where111613-2From the Partridge Pond Trailhead, the trail travels through mixed forest and slightly uphill. Long stretches of bog bridging and stepping stones make this part of the hike interesting. The trail is fairly wide and well-marked with blue blazes, but the challenge lies in the rocky terrain. To start, the forest is mostly deciduous (beech trees, mainly), but as you gain elevation, you’ll see more conifers.

At approximately 0.8 mile (according to maintrailfinder.com), the trail splits. Veer left to hike to Partridge Pond in 0.3 miles. This short section of trail that leads to the pond is especially interesting. The granite bedrock is exposed in many places and large boulders and strewn throughout the forest. An abundance of moss and lichen growing alongside the trail adds a variety of colors and textures to the scenery as well.

where111613-20At the shore of Partridge Pond, bear right to hike to a primitive campsite, which is free to use. You’ll need to cross a small, shallow outlet near a granite shelf to reach the campsite, which includes a toilet (basically a toilet seat on top of a vented box set back in the woods) and fire pits. The trail continues past the campsite a short distance. At the end of the trail, you’ll be greeted by an angular boulder as you reach a granite ledge beach.

After exploring the area, backtrack the 0.3-mile trail to the intersection, where you turned left to hike to Partridge Pond. This time, turn right (if facing the trail split as if coming from the road) to hike to continue on the loop hike. The trail becomes a bit narrower in this section, as evergreens encroach a bit from either side, but it is well-marked with blue blazes.

where111613-24In about 0.3 mile (according to mainetrailfinder.com), you’ll reach the shores of Ducktail Pond. You may notice a very narrow trail leading through tall vegetation to the shore of the pond. This is just a side trail. Continue on the blue-blazed trail, along the pond’s southeast edge to reach the campsite, which is free for the public to use and includes fire pits.

The trail continues past the campsite and leads to an outlet (deeper than the outlet of Partridge Pond). Look for a place to ford the outlet. You may be able to cross the outlet on rocks without wetting your shoes. A blue blaze on a tree marks the trail on the other side.

Oreo finds a "beaver stick" -- a stick that has had all of its bark gnawed off by a beaver.

Oreo finds a “beaver stick” — a stick that has had all of its bark gnawed off by a beaver.

From the pond, the trail travels downhill to Ducktail Pond Road and the Ducktail Pond Trailhead. When you reach the road, turn right and walk 0.8 miles along the gravel road back to Partridge Pond Trailhead. The loop hike is 3-4 miles, depending on the side trails you choose to explore and whether you visit both ponds.

The Amherst Mountains Community Forest (AMCF) is a 4,974 acre tract of forestland surrounding six ponds in the town of Amherst. This property has been open to and used by residents of Amherst and the surrounding region for traditional outdoor recreation for generations.

The fancy restroom at Partridge Pond campsite.

The fancy restroom at Partridge Pond campsite.

For more than 100 years, the land was owned and managed by paper companies that allowed public access for recreation. It became a state-owned forest in 2009, when the Maine Bureau of Conservation purchased the parcel with funding from the Forest Legacy Program and Land for Maine’s Future Program.

AMCF is now managed jointly by the town of Amherst and the Maine Department of Conservation; and the Forest Society of Maine assists the town with its responsibilities for the forest inventories and management plans. Public access is free and dogs are permitted. Visitors are asked to practice Leave No Trace ethics and camp responsibly.

The land is home to a variety of wildlife, including woodcock, peregrine falcons, white-tailed deer, bear and partridge, according to the AMCF management plan published in December 2010 by the Maine Bureau of Conservation.

Partridge Pond

Partridge Pond

Recreational uses of the land include hiking, fishing, hunting, wildlife watching, paddling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. If visiting the forest during one of Maine’s hunting seasons, be sure to wear blaze orange.

The entire property lies within the Union River watershed. All the streams drain southerly and eventually converge with the West Branch Union River, according to the management plan.

The property contains several bodies of water, including 28-acre Partridge Pond, 23.8-mile Ducktail Pond, 16.6-acre Halfmile Pond and 4.7-acre Snowshoe Pond, as well as a few smaller ponds. Of those ponds, Halfmile, Ducktail and Partridge are destinations for open water fishing.

Species identified during a 2005 inventory of Partridge Pond included brook trout, minnows, banded killfish and golden shiner; and a 2008 inventory of Ducktail Pond included golden shiner, banded killfish, and white sucker. The pond is stocked annually with brook trout.

A cool bridge on the trail.

A cool bridge on the trail.

The property’s many ponds and streams have served as the basis for the water quality research by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research, which administers one of the longest running and most comprehensive water quality monitoring programs in the country. Research measuring the response of Partridge Pond to reductions in acid rain has been especially important to the EPA national monitoring program and its assessment of the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act.

AMCF is a part of a broader conservation initiative known as the Lower Penobscot Forest Project, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine and the Division of Parks and Lands to conserve more than 42,000 acres in Maine.

For information, visit www.fsmaine.org or call the Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands at 941-4412. The AMCF management plan can be found at www.maine.gov.

Personal note: I’ve been to Partridge and Ducktail ponds twice.

amherst111613-6The first hike, during July of 2012, was a bit comical. I was hiking with fellow Maine hiker and writer Carey Kish. That day, we entered AMCF to complete two hikes: Bald Bluff Mountain and the ponds loop. It was a foggy, cloudy day. We hiked the mountain first, and I remember swatting at a few deer flies as they touched down on my skin. They have a nasty bite. By the time we were walking along the ponds loop, it seemed as if all the deer flies in the forest had found us. They swarmed our heads and nipped at any exposed skin. I couldn’t even concentrate. It had never experienced anything quite like it. So in the end, I wrote a trail summary and created a video for Bald Bluff Mountain, but I didn’t have enough footage (or memories) of the pond loop to create a proper “1-minute hike.”

Oreo checks out a mushroom.

Oreo checks out a mushroom.

It wasn’t until Nov. 16, 2013, that I decided to visit the remote ponds again. I knew it would be too cold for the deer flies. Hiking buddies Derek and Oreo (our dog) joined me, and right away, I was surprised at how nice the trails were. And I was even more blown away when I saw the ponds. Last time, I had been pacing along the shore, swatting at my head and cursing under my breath. And the fog that hung over the pond blocked much of the view. But during the second hike, the day was clear and without even the slightest breeze. The ponds were giant mirrors, reflecting the pale blue sky and evergreens lining the shore.

To give you an idea of the beauty of this place, I’ll have to tattle on Derek, who said something along the lines of, “Let’s go do another hike and keep this one secret.” I don’t think he was entirely kidding. But I understand. And I assured him that we’d camp by the ponds sometime next summer.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.