Naval Community Plans and Liaison Officer Jackie Johnston helps manage the center. Ellsworth American Photo by Anne Berleant

Military families unwind at Great Pond Outdoor Adventure Center

GREAT POND — With the calm veneer of Great Pond spreading out like an open palm, a handful of children and adults swim and laze in the early summer heat. A destination for respite for active and retired military and their families, and Department of Defense civilians, the Great Pond Outdoor Adventure Center lies at the end of the road in tiny Great Pond. Here, respite includes plenty of recreation opportunities, whether fishing, kayaking or simply tossing horseshoes or a playing a round of putt-putt golf.

Fishing opportunities include ice fishing — the center is open year-round — and one of two fishing derbies is held in the winter months.

“In November we sat around the campfire,” Jackie Johnston said, gesturing to one of the new “cabins,” with two stories, wrap-around windows and a loft bedroom. “A family stationed in Portsmouth [New Hampshire] came here for Thanksgiving before deployment.” Johnston, a naval community plans and liaison officer, added, “This happens all the time.”

The center is “highly subsidized” by the military, she noted, and the rates reflect this: from $20 per night for a yurt to $200 for an 11-guest lodge. Sites for RVs and tents, a tiny house and cabins are also available. Guests are welcome to stay up to seven days, Johnston said.

Because the center is a military establishment, speaking to employees and guests was off limits. But as Johnston drove through the stone gates and meandered around the 375-acre campground, guests moved from cabins to trucks to boats in an unhurried fashion. Dogs, several with a red bandana tied around their necks, followed happily along.

The center had a long history before it joined the network of military recreation centers in the U.S. Purchased in 1933 by Bangor businessman John Norris, it was turned into a private sporting camp for family and friends. The property was donated to the Air Force 23 years later, after Norris died. The idea was to provide a recreation spot for personnel stationed at Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Johnston said, and was named the Dow Pines Adventure Center. The swimming beach, picnic areas and pavilions came quickly after. When Dow Air Force Base was shuttered in 1968, the center transferred to the jurisdiction of the Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. But as use declined over the ensuing years, and when the Loring base closed in 1994, the center did too.

Placed in caretaker status, the Navy assumed ownership in 2002 and reopened the property as Great Pond Outdoor Adventure Center. Managed first from the Brunswick Navy base, when that base closed in 2011, Portsmouth Naval Yard assumed jurisdiction.

Throughout all its incarnations, the pond has been its calling card. With three inlets and an annual fish stocking that includes speckled and brook trout, there is good fishing, locals say, from the eel, perch, catfish, sunfish, and even small mouth bass populations.

The center finds its 10-person staff among local residents, but the captain of the catamaran Sleepy Buoy is a volunteer who takes guests out for a 5 a.m. fishing run and an evening sunset cruise. Great Pond has been his playground since he was a boy, and he guides the catamaran past an eagle’s nest — the eaglets were out for the day, he noted — past cabins and campsites hidden behind trees and on one of the two tiny islands. At the far reaches lives a moose, he said, and painted, mud and snapping turtles nest on the shoreline.

Guests rent kayaks, canoes, skiffs, paddle boards, motorboats and mountain bikes in summer and snowmobiles, cross-country skis, snowshoes and ice shacks in winter.

“Sixty-five million years ago a glacier came through and gouged the pond out,” the captain said. And from the center of Great Pond on a summer afternoon, it’s easy to imagine that little has changed since then.

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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