While much of the Maine outdoors is still open, some trails, mountains, parks and beaches are closed. Check for current closings/restrictions before heading out and keep your social distance. In the meantime, we can still talk about Maine’s great places and the adventures we look forward to.
Ponds are the keepers of calm-water memories. We remember the pond where we caught our first fish (technically, Grandpa caught it, but we helped) and the one where we still ice skate with friends every winter. Some ponds are known for their ducks and others for their koi.
And then some ponds, like Runaround Pond in Durham, are immortalized for their predatory worms.
Now before you get too skeeved out by that idea, let me clarify: I’m talking about leeches. If my saying the word “leech” didn’t assuage your unease, consider this: Leeches aren’t so terrible. They’re food for fish, birds and turtles – pond occupants we like having around. Leeches are used in medicine (legitimately) and they can eat five times their body weight. Impressive.
And would Stephen King’s novella “The Body,” also known by its excellent film adaptation “Stand By Me,” be as good without the leech scene? I think not.
That scene was purportedly inspired by Runaround Pond, which is, indeed, a happy water home for plenty of leeches. King grew up just down the road from the pond, exploring the woods and waters (and railroad tracks and cemeteries) of Durham. And clearly he must have met the leeches.
But Runaround Pond is more than just a serene and scenic body of water inspiring unforgettable storylines crafted by the world’s best horror writer.
It’s also a nice place to kayak.
Runaround Pond looks more like a river at first glance. It’s slender and winding and bordered by a dense crowd of trees that stands watch over passing paddlers like a deciduous security detail.
There’s a parking area and boat launch at the Runaround Pond Recreation Area off Runaround Pond Road. Kayakers and canoers glide into the pond and quickly discover there’s no need to rush. The waters are calm, the lily pads look dashing and there are painted turtles napping on logs at every turn.
The wildlife spotting can be marvelous here. Beavers and frogs, osprey and herons, kingfishers, otters and eagles. Following the pond west from the boat launch, it eventually splits into two long branches, both of which offer more places for easy-going exploration. The nooks and crannies are endless.
You might spot a sign for Maine Forest Yurts, which is located on the pond; otherwise, there are no houses or other buildings visible from the water, so it feels wonderfully wild and remote. And the mellow waters make this a great spot for beginner paddlers.
Back near the boat launch, don’t miss one last really neat nook: the gorge-like area just above the dam. Follow the tunnel underneath Runaround Pond Road to float for a few minutes beside the high wall of rock. (But be very careful of getting too close to the dam. Give plenty of space or wait until after your paddle to enjoy the view on foot from the trail.)
For paddlers who’d like to paddle downstream on Chandler Brook, there is a portage around the dam.
The Runaround Pond Recreation Area is a nice place to explore on foot, too. After you’ve strapped down your boat, check out the gorge from the small network of pine-needle-covered trails.
And if you really want to recreate the scene from “Stand By Me,” just go swimming (or maybe just do a dramatic re-enactment onshore).
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.