Difficulty: Easy. Much of the park is wheelchair accessible, and the park’s 1-mile nature trail is easy enough for young children.
How to get there: The park is located off Empire Road in Poland. From Interstate 95, take Exit 75 and drive south on Route 202 for 1 mile, passing Crossroads Market and Southern Maine Auto Auction, and turn right onto Route 122 (Poland Spring Road). Drive 0.8 mile to a stop sign and turn left onto Route 122 (Hotel Road). Drive 3 miles and turn right onto Empire Road. Drive 0.7 mile and turn left onto State Park Road, which is marked with a large sign for Range Pond State Park. Drive about half a mile to the main parking area for the park, stopping at an entrance booth on the way to pay admission.
Information: Featuring wide sandy beaches on the scenic Lower Range Pond, Range Pond State Park has long been a popular place for the public to enjoy watersports, picnicking, sunbathing and fishing. And in recent years, the park has expanded its network of walking and biking trails and started opening its gates year round to offer a wider range out outdoor activities during all seasons.
“We’re trying to promote the park as more than just a beach,” said Range Pond State Park Manager Adam McKay in a recent phone interview.
Range Pond State Park — which is pronounced “Rang” Pond — was established in the mid 1960s, when the State of Maine purchased most of the 740 acres of the land for the park from Hiram Ricker and Sons, bottlers of Poland Spring Water. Now a division of Nestle Waters North America, the Poland Spring Bottling Company still bottles water at a plant beside the park and maintains a partnership with the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Public Lands, which operates Range Pond State Park.
The park’s amenities include a playground, picnic areas, restrooms, a group shelter, seasonal lifeguards and a boat launch limited to 10 horsepower motors.
For visitors looking to stretch their legs, a wide, surfaced promenade parallels the pond for 1,000 feet next to the park’s Main Beach, and easy trails branch off it, totaling about 5 miles of walking.
Among those trails is a mile-long nature trail that is easy enough for young children and includes numbered interpretive displays that help visitors better understand the park’s natural features, wildlife and history. Starting at an interpretive display at the south end of South Beach, the nature trail travels south through the woods on a wide gravel path, passing a wetland on the way to the small, sandy Frenchman’s Beach. From there, the nature trail leads to a scenic overlook atop a hill formed out of a glacial deposit, then the trail loops around a wetland through a quiet, mixed forest.
The interpretive displays located along the trail include text, diagrams and photos of local wildlife and plants. Topics covered in the displays include the water cycle and watersheds, the glacial and human history of the property, and the history and science behind Poland Spring mineral water. And when you’re done with your walk, be sure to stop by the park drinking fountain for a drink of the famous Poland water.
At the north end of the park, starting at the north end of the main beach, are more easy walking trails, including a 2-mile loop that is groomed for cross-country skiing during the winter, and a 1.5-mile loop that serves as a multi-use trail during the winter, according to McKay. These trails are well established but aren’t yet shown on the trail map.
In addition, the park features about 5 miles of single-track mountain biking trails that are easy enough for beginners, McKay said. These trails are not yet shown on the park map, but the trailhead is across from the park sign at the beginning of State Park Road. A gravel parking area is currently being established there, and there are plans to build a kiosk at the trailhead with an updated park map showing the biking trails.
Park hours are 9 a.m. to sunset daily unless otherwise signed at the gate. Dogs are permitted on the trails if kept on a leash no longer than 4 feet at all times. Dogs are not permitted on the beaches between April 1 and September 30; they are permitted on the beaches during the rest of the year. Owners are expected to pick up after their pets, disposing of waste properly.
Park admission is collected at the gate year round. If an attendant isn’t present, leave admission in the metal canister at the gate. Admission for Maine residents is $6 for adults; $1 for children ages 5-11; and free for children under 5 and seniors over 66. For non-residents, adults are $8; children 5-11 are $1; seniors over 65 are $2; and children under 5 are free.
For information, call the park at 998-4104 or visit www.maine.gov/rangepond.
Personal note: I’d never been to Poland, Maine, until last week, when I traveled there to conduct an interview with the owners of Poland Spring Campground to write a story for the BDN Outdoors. While there, I took the opportunity to visit Range Pond State Park, where I was taken aback by the beautiful, wide, sandy beaches on Lower Range Pond. At first I assumed all the sand must have been carted in there for the public (and some sand may have been), but as I walked the park’s nature trail, I learned from interpretive displays that deep sand and gravel deposits were left by a glacier retreating from the region long ago, and these deposits act as an aquifer for the famous Poland water.
It being weekday and so early in the year, the park was almost empty, though I hear it can get very busy during summer weekends. While there, I came across a solo kayaker, a group of fishermen in two canoes, a family playing in the sand and a couple of dog walkers using the easy trails.
While on the nature trail, I scanned the wetland for wood ducks but only found turtles — about 10 eastern painted turtles basking on logs.
After my walk, I returned to the Main Beach and found it empty, so I sat down in the soft sand and enjoyed the sun, then wandered a bit, stopping every now and again to inspect freshwater snail and clam shells — which were much lighter than the shells I find along the Maine coast. Also buried in the sand were rocks of different colored granite and flecks of mica — a shiny, layered mineral that almost looks like glass and causes the mountains of western Maine to sparkle.
Leaving the park around 1:30 p.m., I drove around Lower Range Pond to visit Poland Spring Preservation Park, which features about 4 miles of trails on the historic grounds of the Maine State Building and All Souls Chapel. I didn’t have time to explore the trails before my planned interview, but I did pick up a brochure at the parking area so I could do some research and perhaps return at a later date.
More photos of the park: