Portland Press Herald: Canoeing in Maine: Finish the season with a local paddle

A trip along the Androscoggin in Brunswick provided plenty of highlights.

We are wrapping up our 2017 canoeing columns with the theme of getting out there one last time before the snow flies, and exploring someplace close to home. In our case that means an outing on the nearby Androscoggin River in Brunswick. The big windstorm of a few weeks ago has created extra yard work for many of us, so getting away for a daylong outing is not as likely right now. A few hours on the water in a pretty setting provides a much-needed therapeutic interlude.

We often bike on the 2.6-mile Androscoggin River Bike Path and have talked about canoeing along that same stretch of the river. November is a great time to be on the water – crisp blue skies and that wonderful invigorating glow on the face. We finally made it happen. Launching at the Brunswick Public Boat Launch on Water Street we headed down river with the current, planning an easy hour down, and a little extra time for the return by paddling tight along the shoreline to mitigate the current.

A series of islands fills the bend in the river as it starts to turn north and head away from Route 1. Fifty-eight-acre Cow Island, managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, provides a secluded barrier from the highway traffic sounds. We were surprised how sandy the bottom was, and enjoyed the rippled designs of the sand only inches under our canoe. A couple of kingfishers leapfrogged ahead of us, chattering away. Mallards drifted along the shoreline. A heron gracefully lifted up from the brown marsh grasses ahead of us.

Cow Island features a dense grove of silver maples. With the leaves off the trees their shadowed trunks looked like gangly pipe cleaner figures all dancing together. Incidentally, the Androscoggin River in Leeds once provided soils and sands to support a silver maple 390 years old and with a girth of 26 feet. It succumbed to age and the seasons in 2012.

The oaks along the northern shoreline still tenaciously held on to their golden brown leaves, but a freshening southerly breeze began to pluck many from their perches. It was raining leaves. Wispy cirrus clouds drifted eastward, a portent of the strong cold front expected to race across the region overnight.

After a rainstorm, and during the ebbing tide the current in the river increases. The islands are clustered close together and create swirls and eddies that require paddlers to be confident and capable in moving-water situations. The islands are an interesting mix of sandbars and rocky ledges, some isles low and others elevated with thick stands of evergreens. It is a fascinating mix providing an array of channels to explore. Suddenly the islands open into a broad open bay with green meadows on the left and farmhouses scattered up along the Foreside Road in Topsham.

My wife did a great job figuring out our route back to the boat launch, minimizing the effect of the current. We paddled around the Route One side of Cow Island on the return, spotting two red-shouldered hawks flying low through the trees looking for prey. A cormorant lifted off to our left. The low early-afternoon sun warmed our faces, and we basked in the fact we had found a perfect mid-November day to sneak in that last paddle of the year.

Passing under the two bridges just east of the boat launch we decided to paddle the half-mile down to the Pejepscot mill to take a few pictures. We found a quiet eddy below a large ledge and rested for a few minutes enjoying the flow of water around us and the view up to the Frank J. Wood bridge and ahead to the mill. The yellow portion that now houses the Sea Dog Brewery was once part of the Pejepscot paper mill. Built in 1868 it remains the oldest paper mill structure still standing in Maine.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 6) for help in getting to the boat launch on Water Street. Pass the stuffing, then load up the canoe, or put another way; act gobblely, paddle locally.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact: