For the fourth leg of my Casco Bay watershed run, I decided to delay exploring the middle of the Sebago to Sea trail and instead to complete an out and back on sections 1 and 2. Driving up to the lake, I spotted a parking lot on Rt. 237 with the now familiar Sebago to Sea trail kiosk. The lot planted me in between sections 1 and 2 so I’d be able to run out and back on each, with a water stop in between. I hit the trail, and found myself on what I thought was a smooth, easy running surface. Ignoring my footing, I got about 10 strides in when my left toe caught a camouflaged root and I ditched it into the trail, cutting my right hand and jamming my right elbow hard into the dirt. Not willing to abandon the run, I wiped off the blood, cradled my elbow for a minute, then took off slowly down leg 2, away from the lake.
Other than the pesky root and one busy road crossing, the trails were great for running. There’s a network of side paths, but all were marked with clear signage. I quickly reached the end of the second section of the S2S network (an easy 1.2 miles), turned around, and ran back to the car. My arm was aching from the fall, but I was eager to to see the lake, so I took off in the opposite direction on section 1. Route 35 had some fast moving cars, but after crossing with care, I entered the woods and took off down a trail blanketed with soft pine. This trail led to Pond Road, which runs alongside the lake to a final section of trail.
As I neared the lake, I began to see fences with signs designed to keep people out. This seemed contradictory given that the lake functions as both a water supply and a recreation destination. According to the history mapped out on the Portland Water District website, there’s long been tricky balance between these two functions of the lake, with cottages being removed as early as 1909 and boating and swimming rules being adjusted over the subsequent century. The PWD website points out that human activity is the greatest danger to the lake, from swimming near the water intake to using chemical treatments on lawns. Lawn chemicals can leach down into groundwater and enter lakes in the natural run off that occurs with rain. These pesticides and fertilizers are irrefutably dangerous to humans, animals, insects, and the environment, and though they create a dead ecosystem, the association of fluffy green grass with the idea of a well-maintained house has been slow to change. Sebago Lake is large enough that it remains relatively healthy in spite of these challenges. The PWD website points out that, “Sebago Lake is the deepest lake in New England and contains almost a trillion gallons of water. This doesn’t mean it’s invincible, but it takes more effort to pollute that much water.” Human activity is taking a toll, but it’s happening slowly. There have long been debates about whether motorized boating should be allowed on the southern end of Sebago (currently, it’s only prohibited 3,000 feet from the water intakes), but the legislature hasn’t chosen to prohibit them at this point. As Portland’s primary water source, Sebago is a hard working lake, serving a quarter of a million people, essentially 25% of the Maine population. The watershed project has given me the opportunity to slow down time–to appreciate the lake, the river that flows from it, and to examine the ways that these natural resources intersect with human industry, domestic life, and recreation.
After months of exploring the Presumpscot River, which leads from the lake to Casco Bay, I was eager to reach the lake itself. As I emerged from the woods, completing the final 2.8 mile stretch of trail (S2S, section 1), I emerged on a sandy beach, smiling at the grand blue expanse and the outline of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the distance.
I explored the beach for a few minutes, splashed some water on my face, and retraced my steps to the car. I’d run 8 miles and my elbow and hand were pretty sore. I was ready for a few days of rest before taking on the final mid-section of the Presumpscot and then the circumference of the lake itself.