Hiking in Maine: Near Ellsworth? Make time for Branch Lake Public Forest – Press Herald

Cruising along at 55 miles per hour on U.S. Route 1A through the outskirts of Ellsworth a half-dozen miles north of downtown, it’s easy to miss the black and white sign that reads “Branch Lake Public Forest.” But now that you know to look for it, you certainly should the next time you’re in the neighborhood. Be sure to have your daypack and hiking shoes with you because there’s a lot to explore at this scenic gem.

Branch Lake is nearly 3,000 acres in size, close to 6 miles long and as much as 124 feet deep. Camps and homes dot the upper part of the beautiful lake, which is ringed by low mountains. The lake’s lower section, however, is mostly undeveloped and cloaked in thick forest. Branch Lake drains into the Union River and Blue Hill Bay, a nationally significant estuary. The lake, one of the clearest and cleanest in Maine, is Ellsworth’s sole public drinking water supply.

Branch Lake Public Forest encompasses 239 acres on the southeastern side of the lake, including a 3/4-mile stretch of pristine shoreline. Four foot trails and an old gravel tote road offer hikers more than 3 miles of pleasant meandering. The forest is open year-round from dawn to dusk. Dogs are allowed. The trailhead is a mile in from the highway, and the drive isn’t plowed in winter, so plan accordingly if that’s when you’re visiting.

Branch Lake is nearly 3,000 acres in size, close to 6 miles long, and as much as 124 feet deep. Carey Kish photo

Protection for about 450 acres around what is now the Branch Lake Public Forest, as well as some 750 acres on the opposite shore, was achieved in 2010. Through acquisition and easements under the Branch Lake Conservation Initiative – a partnership between the Mary C. Fenn Trust, the City of Ellsworth, the Forest Society of Maine, the Frenchman Bay Conservancy and the Maine Dept. of Conservation – much of the lake’s watershed, including an astounding 3 1/2 miles of waterfront, was permanently preserved. The agreement also fostered new opportunities for non-motorized recreation and sustainable timber harvesting.

“The Fenn family had owned over 1,500 acres of land around the lower half of Branch Lake for four generations,” said Tom Sidar, Executive Director of the Frenchman Bay from 2009 to 2015. “…….

Source: https://www.pressherald.com/2022/03/13/hiking-in-maine-near-ellsworth-make-time-for-branch-lake-public-forest/

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