Maine water access to lakes and ponds

The Maine atlas shows boat launches on some lakes and ponds. If no launch is shown, does that mean that there is no public access to that lake or pond? How can I figure out which lakes and ponds allow public access, as opposed to the shore being totally private property?

I think I read that all Maine bodies of water 10 acres or more are public, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a a spot on the shore that belongs to the state, right?

In New Hampshire the state has made an effort to establish a launch spot on most lakes and ponds by gradually buying private property. Maine being so much larger, I’m wondering whether the state of Maine has made a similar effort.

Please enlighten me, Mainers. Thanks!

Public lands are hashmarked in

– Last Updated: Jan-31-12 10:03 AM EST –

the DeLorme. You can assume that the rest of the land is private. Over 90 percent of land here is private.

Technically you can cross private land that is not posted to access the water. Whether or not this is a good idea is another issue. Much of the waterfront is owned here by out of staters who are unaware of the need to post to control access. It is best to ask before you set foot on someone elses land. We had people accessing the lake I live on off a private road without permission, leaving a mess. Now its posted.

Because people do not have good manners and ask before use I have seen more and more posted signs erupt over the last ten years. The signs used to be rare.

And most roads that lead to lakes are roads. Funded and maintained by the property owners who take a dim view of people from away using their roads especially in mud season..(they are for the most part unpaved).

Also beware No Parking signs along areas that you think you can access even though there is no launch. They are often areas for the Fire Department to draw water from. Park and you get towed.

Not sure of the acreage..I think it may be all ponds and lakes.

No Maine cannot buy access to all lakes and ponds. There is far more money and there are far more people in New Hampshire. What the State is busy with is dealing with sorting out users. There are more and more cries for horsepower restrictions and control of PWC's.

Don't get discouraged. If a town is on a lake most likely it has town owned beaches you can launch a paddlecraft from. There is more access than shown in the DeLorme.

Not Mainer but…
Yeah, more of Maine has gotten enforcement signs up, though it is worse as you go further south. Also, be aware that right of ownership along the ocean goes to the mean low tide line, not the high tide mark like many other states.

That said, agree with kayakmedic that you should scout for town launches. They are often more numerous than the standard maps indicate if you can get some local knowledge. We know of a bunch in Friendship that aren’t listed anywhere, though at least half are only accessible from the water because there isn’t a road to them. Out of state plates can cause some issues (for you) in some of them, again local knowledge. Granted I am talking ocean w/r to Friendship, but I expect it is similar with inland lakes.

We have not encountered a problem anywhere, but we were warned off of one location by friendly locals too.

The other option is to be willing to look for harbors or marinas and pony up a fee for day use of their launch. The kayak and most of what you actually do with it is free anyway - a moderate fee to make sure your stuff is safe may be worth it.

Why do you think ME & NH are different?
Maine and New Hampshire both have about 1.3 million people. Maybe you meant the population density is greater in New Hampshire?

I’m surprised you say there is far more money in New Hampshire. Do you mean for recreation specifically?

I think that in general Maine does a better job inviting and allowing public access to recreation. NH is more highly regulated. There are very few places in NH where you can camp at will, for example (other than the WMNF).

The NH policy of buying up small patches of lakeshore for boat access is an exception. Do you think Maine favors private landowners, and if so, what’s the origin of that?

I’m curious about this because I see thousands of ponds and lakes on the map but it’s hard to get a sense of whether they would be kayakable, or are highly developed, etc.

Boat launches
Providing boat access has always been important at both the State and town level. An interesting tool:

Wonderful! Thank you!
Another example of why I say Maine is a citizen-friendly state.

Not always

– Last Updated: Jan-31-12 7:14 PM EST –

in the sense you might think of. Some ramps allow parking daytime only. Others have restrictions. The one at the south end of Richardson Lake is on private property and they do allow launch..but pay too.

Looking at the previous reference in my area there are a number of errors. Most of the errors are omissions. There are carries to Heath Pond and Thompson Lake not on that map. And a carry to Crescent Lake on the north end. Entirely missing is a launch to Panther Pond. Also missing is a launch though not formal at the Frye Island ferry in Raymond.

Looking at the Androscoggin river.. most of the launches for paddlecraft are absent. That is because many are town owned.

I am just NE of Sebago Lake.

If you have questions about a specific area feel free to ask.

The map is a good guide but far from inclusive and in some rare cases (like on Richardson) you need a wallet.

Glad to hear there are a lot of launches that aren’t shown.

Great Ponds Act

– Last Updated: Jan-31-12 11:34 PM EST –

Maine is governed by the Great Ponds Act, which goes back to colonial times. Any natural pond greater than 10 acres is public.

It would appear that the public has a right of access on foot to great ponds over any "unimproved land". Anyone who denies this right of access can be prosecuted and fined or imprisoned.

In ambiguous cases a court will probably have to determine what constitutes unimproved land, but I don't know that just putting up a "Posted" or "No Trespassing" sign would suffice. There's probably more specific guidance from the case law available to diligent researchers.

then we get into the definition of pond
IIRC its a body of water 25 feet or less at its deepest point.

So I will throw anyone out of accessing my lake (not a pond) through my backyard without permission. Ask and ye shall be granted. Taketh and you will get grief.

Just come and ask I am amenable. It is the civil way.

Like that’d happen…
If a local sheriff or whoever has to choose between prosecuting one of their own residents who feels trespassed upon, versus strongly suggesting that a stranger with out of state plates should relocate… I can see that law being upheld in a dust-up between locals. But I can’t imagine the county legal offices of any state taking up a case for a non-resident. And that describes many of the paddling incursions in Maine - tourism is a pretty big part of the picture.

Access to ponds in maine
I have often wondered about that statute - seems that perhaps if you have a pubic body of water surrounded by private land there might be an implied public right of way to access the public water. I think about this each time I plunk down my wallet to get through the gate at the North Maine Woods gates. I figure it is up to residents, not outa staters like me. But I wonder, has anyone every litigated that issue in Maine?

no difference
From a regulatory viewpoint there is no distinction between a lake and a pond. Both are surface

waters of the state and subject to the same water quality standards. From a naming convention

there is no precise difference between a lake and pond, although waterbodies named “lakes” are

generally larger and/or deeper than waterbodies named “ponds.” From an ecological or

limnological perspective, there is a difference between the two. The difference, however, is

somewhat arbitrary and not consistent or precise.

FWIW - I’ve lived in Maine for over 20 years and I have never had an issue accessing any inland body of water for which I did not have to cross private land. If you drive by it and can reach the shore from the road then it is a fair game.

Not that I know of for NMW
Its a privilege that the landowners grant to anyone to access the woods.

Access on tidal areas is of course dictated by the Moody decision.

I can see litigation coming though I am not aware of any existing. We had to post our road with No Lake Access signs because of poor behavior of non residents. Got tired of picking up trash and tired of non residents tearing up the dirt roads, which are private and entirely maintained by the pocketbooks of residents. It costs some ten grand a year to maintain, grade and plow a mile of dirt road…and the cost is divided by six residents.

There is no provision as in NMW for tolled entry for road maintenance. The real access issue is the roads.

Splain please
"I’ve lived in Maine for over 20 years and I have never had an issue accessing any inland body of water for which I did not have to cross private land. If you drive by it and can reach the shore from the road then it is a fair game. "

If you didn’t have to cross private land, you were on public land, correct? If you can reach the shore from the road, why does that make it fair game if it’s private property?

My question is more: Are the majority of lakes and ponds in Maine completely surrounded by private land, and does this make access difficult?

Comparing that to a state where the state tries to buy up a small access point on each body of water, indicating that public access is a priority.

But -
I have never understood why there is not an implied easement benefiting the public to have a free access to public waters. It has never made any sense to me that a private landowner can prohibit or regulate access to public waters. I do understand that the landowner would want that power for the reasons you point out. But, what do I know? Can you land a float plane on Chamberlain and paddle down steam to Allagash without paying fees? If so, it might be worth it for non residents on a long trip given the daily fees.

Article on access

University of Maine, 16 pages, comprehensive review of the history of access

read the law
did you not read the Maine law requiring public access for bodies of water over certain acreage?

Majority og ponds in Maine have a road passing by or are on public land or are on paper company land for which you paid entrance fee [golden road].

pretty much any lakes/ponds worth visiting are accessible.

do not worry about it. just go.

Great pond access
Keep in mind that the GPA allows access only across unimproved lands and only by foot.

If there is a maintained road or a building on the land that is an improvement. So, practically, the access right to a great pond will only apply to an empty lot, and you will have to start your access from a public road or land.

You will have to walk. I would assume this would include walking with a canoe on your shoulders. It would disallow ATV’s and even bikes. Whether it would allow pulling or pushing a Swedish boat cart made in China would probably have to be litigated in a court in Norway, Poland, Mexico or Peru.

Seaplanes are prohibied from landing within one mile of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

It sounds like the right thing to do to always allow public access to public waters no matter what the ownership of the land is that needs to be crossed…but things like vandalism…broken fences and general bad behavior and littering spoil things.

That said if any of you contacted me I would be happy to provide parking (and that is a real issue on camp roads…sometimes people block emergency access) and allow you to use my land. But just ask.