Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Location: Presumpscot River

In his book Kennebec: Cradle of Americans, Robert P.T. Coffin states the two functions of a proper river: That of watery battlefield and cradle of civilization. Now, considering Coffin was referring to fights in which "wooden ships came right up to each other till their cannon touched, and then pounded each other till the ocean was full of dust and splinters," the Presumpscot River does not meet Coffin's pugilistic rule that "[e]very river worth its salt ought to have at least one sea fight." This, despite playing host to numerous skirmishes between the Abenaki tribes and European settlers in pre-colonial America.

However, the Presumpscot does fulfill Coffin's latter function of a river, that of a cradle. Or, as he puts it, the Presumpscot (like the Kennebec) was a place where the "first Americans cut their teeth on [its] rocks and were sung to sleep by their white music," and where the first towns were settled and flowered with prosperity.

In fact, the first dam built in Maine was constructed within the Presumpscot's veins in 1732. And the river, whose name apparently meant "many falls" or "many rough places" in the native tongues, also powered Maine's first paper mill in the 1730s, which eventually became S.D. Warren in the 1850s. You may have heard of it.

Anyway, it is indeed ironic that this historically workman-like sliver of water (think Cumberland and Oxford Canal) is now primarily the object of the Sunday leisurer, for the preceding three paragraphs were essentially a fancy introduction to the paddle and fishing expedition I had Sunday morning.

After a hearty breakfast at Guidi's Diner (more on that later), I put my 16-foot AlumaCraft in the Presumpscot at the public access spot on Mill Lane, just above the Saccarappa Dam. But before I left, I threw in the required ingredients for a rugged outdoorsman's suburban kid's morning out on the canoe: One wooden paddle; two International Orange life preservers (one for me and the other for, well, me); an Ugly Stik (yeah, I'm built "Ugly tough"); and an L.L. Bean "teardrop bag" (don't laugh) filled with cheap lures, a five-inch blade, a box of matches, my digital camera, and, of course, a pack of unfiltered Black and Milds.

Ten minutes after shoving from shore, the Dana Warp Mill receded from view, and I was just beyond Rivermeadow Golf Course. The chorus of the various birds (note to self: study up on some ornithology) mostly drowned out the distant hum of cars, and the sun warmed my brown galoshes, blue flannel shirt, and yellow straw hat. Minutes later, it was only the birds' song, the water, and me. It's remarkable that such quiet and natural curiousity is a short paddle away from Main Street.

After two hours of steady paddling and intermittent casting, I finally arrived within eyesight of the Mallison Dam (for you landlubbers, think the Cumberland County Correction Center in Windham). Then, ten minutes and a 13-inch bass later, I turned the canoe around and began paddling toward Westbrook. Who needs Planet Fitness when you've got the Presumpscot River?

- John C.L. Morgan

P.S. Unlike, say, Applebee's, Guidi's has the credibility to boast its local roots. So it wasn't annoying to see that the menu features such specials as 'Frenchtown,' 'The Main Street,' and 'Stroudwater,' 'Bradleez Plaza' (ah, the good 'ole days), 'The Falls,' 'Westerly Winds,' and 'Duck Pond.' Sunday morning, though, I opted to tap into a deep reservoir of nostalgia (not to mention my preference for salty ham) by ordering 'The Hamlett,' which consists of a very hammy omelette (hence its ungrammatical double-t's), as well as delish homefries with sauteed onion, toast, and a cup of cofee. Question: Where else can you go where a dish is named after a trailer park?

P.P.S. A handful of links for y'all to consider:

"A Paddle on the Presumpscot"
A Press Herald writer's 2001 account of a two-day paddle of the Presumpscot, the collection of articles include the canoe trip from Sebago to Westbrook, from Westbrook to Casco Bay, an historic map of the river, a story on the controversy surrounding some of the dams, and a photographic slideshow of the reporter's trip.

Friends of the Presumpscot River
Considering the Presumpscot has more dams per mile than any other river in Maine (nine dams over 27 miles), the Friends of the Presumpscot primarily focus on the elimination of three of the nine dams.

Presumpscot River Watch
The Presumpscot River Watch has a three-pronged mission: "Scientific monitoring of the river, the sharing of data to increase awareness, and serving as a steward for the river through participation in legislative, community, and individual efforts." To volunteer, click here.

Presumspcot River Watershed Coalition
Besides publishing the much-anticipated second edition of the Presumpscot River Guide (from my perspective, at least), the Presumpscot River Watershed Coalition is organizing the inaugural Presumpscot Riverfest at Riverbank Park on July 19. More on that later.

S.D. Warren Co. v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection et al.
Our collection of electronic information related to Supreme Court battle over the state's ability to regulate dams in Maine.

No comments: