Fascinating ‘ice pancake’ formations highlight Patten Stream hike in Surry

The path descended sharply, plunging into a dark forest. Evergreens towered overhead, their needled branches intertwining to block the sky.

On the way down, I could hear the dull roar of Patten Stream as it swept over fern-topped rocks and churned at the base of tiny waterfalls. Having visited the reserve before, I knew the trail would eventually lead me to the edge of the creek, where I hoped to find some interesting ice formations.

Located in the small coastal town of Surry, Patten Stream Preserve covers 41 acres along the east side of Patten Stream, just above where it empties into Patten Bay. This section of the creek twists back and forth like a snake, winding through the forest.

Ice blankets the edges of Patten Creek in Surry. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The reserve is owned and managed by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, a non-profit organization that has protected over 11,800 acres in the Blue Hill area. Founded in 1985, the land trust builds trails on many of its properties, and I have visited most of them.

I first visited Patten Stream Preserve in September 2015. But it’s amazing how quickly I forget details of adventures (thank goodness I take so many pictures and write notes). When I returned to the property this month, I really had no idea what to expect. I remembered the creek was beautiful, and that’s about it.

When I reached the south loop, I decided I was in no rush, so I turned away from the creek and hiked the east side of the loop first, enjoying the quiet forest. Accompanying me on the mini-adventure, my dog, Juno, dug her nails into the frozen earth as she strained to sniff out every moss-lined nook and cranny of the woods.

At the next intersection, I found a letterbox, a small wooden locker that contained a unique rubber stamp – it was a picture of flowers in the shape of a star. Mailboxes are part of a global game of finding mailboxes and stamping notebooks. It’s a mix of outdoor adventure and art.

We took the connecting trail to the north loop which is the larger of the two. Again I chose to walk away from the creek knowing we would be going back. I often like to save the best things for last.

Blue flames mark the trails of Patten Stream Preserve in Surry. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

Sunlight filtered through the canopy. Snow dusted the mossy forest floor. Juno found a particularly fascinating set of orange mushrooms. All was well in the world.

Finally we met the stream in a rocky bend. Ice, stacked in fascinating patterns, lined the shore. A thick layer of ice also covered the rocks scattered in the creek bed, like the icing on the cake. They glistened in the sun.

I held onto Juno’s leash tightly, fearing she might jump into the freezing water. And even though I wore ice cleats for traction, I was nervous crossing the walkways that spanned an offshoot of the creek. If Juno had intervened, it wouldn’t have been an emergency, but it would have been a cold, uncomfortable walk to the trailhead.

On a mossy bump near the shore, I spotted a small red object. As I approached, I realized it was a painted rock. Just a little larger than a marble, the strawberry-shaped rock had been painted red with yellow stripes, and on top were a leaf and a ladybug painted green. It was quite complex for such a small canvas.

My first reaction was to smile. I’ve seen painted rocks before, nestled in flowerbeds and perched on park benches. A few years ago, I heard about a local group sharing their rock art. It’s called “Bangor ROCKS!”

I think painted rocks are fun to look at. They spark a little joy in me. On the other hand, they might not be welcome on conserved properties where people go to enjoy nature. The painted rocks look like fairy houses and cairns (piles of stones) made by visitors. They are a demonstration of creativity and happiness, but they are not suitable for all places.

In the end, I think the best thing to do is ask the owner what they can leave on their property. Unsure, I left the small artwork behind. He’s probably buried in snow now.

Juno rears up on her hind legs to sniff out a tree fungus in Patten Stream Reserve in Surry. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

The biggest treat of the day came towards the end of our hike.

After blue flames painted on trees, we completed the north loop, then started cruising around the south loop. Along the way, we took a small side trail to the water. And there, I encountered a whimsical sight: frozen pancakes.

I had seen them before, but only in pictures sent in by other Mainers. Ice floes are small icy discs that float on the surface of water. I don’t know how they form, but I imagine it has something to do with the current pushing around the foam that forms along the edges of waterways.

The ice pancakes on Patten Stream actually got caught in a whirlwind. I watched them circle back to shore and back off counter-clockwise.

Pleased with our frigid discoveries, I took Juno back to the trailhead.

If you want to learn more about Patten Stream Preserve, check out the Blue Hill Heritage Trust’s virtual presentation”BHHT Story of Place: Patten Stream and the Gaspereau Restoration Project 5th Anniversary” on Youtube.

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