New book highlights self-directed kayaking trips in Southern Maine

Paddling Southern Maine: Day Trips for Recreational Kayakers, Canoers, and SUPers

 by Sandy Moore and Kimberlee Bennett

Reviewed by Peter Jones for Atlantic Coastal Kayaker Magazine

           The southeastern corner of Maine, an area roughly bounded by the Kennebec River to the north, the Androscoggin to the west and the Saco to the south, is a region rich in possibilities for paddling on inland and sheltered coastal waters.  These rivers, fed by numerous small streams, springs and ponds, lead downstream to saltwater marshes opening out into Casco Bay at the southern tip of the Gulf of Maine.  As well as a displaying a rich diversity of plant life, the resulting wetlands are populated with a plethora of animals – a wide array of migrant birds (herons, cormorants, terns and ducks), several species of small amphibians (frogs, toads, newts) and reptiles (turtles and lizards) as well as small, and some not-so-small, mammals, like moose, deer and bear.

            After glancing at the title page of the guidebook ‘Paddling Southern Maine…’ and before even turning its pages, I thought about the essentials I’d expect in a good paddling guidebook of the region: detailed maps, directions and instructions on how to best reach put-ins, resident animal and plant life, perhaps something unique to each trip - those would be the basics.  Then there would be the practical, nice-to-have things - that the book be well laid out, well organized with easy to find information and clear and concise text.  Above all, the book should describe places to explore that aren’t found in other guidebooks. 

            Does this book measure up?  Yes, I really think it does.  The authors know what they’re talking about and they’ve written this book built on a lifetime of personal outdoor experiences in the region.  It is well researched in that they’ve obviously paddled most of these trips during different seasons, at different times of day and under different weather conditions so that throughout the book they offer good advice on when, as well as where, to go, and frequently include descriptions of the seasonal animal and plant life found at various times of day as well as ‘local knowledge’ recommendations for dealing with the vagaries of tide, current and wind.

            I’m not familiar enough with the region to comment on how well-known these trips are, but suspect that many of the trip locations are well known to the locals but not so familiar to out-of-towners.  Appalachian Mountain Club’s go-to book for inland paddling in Maine, ‘Quiet Water Maine’, covers trips in the ponds, lakes and rivers throughout the entire state.  ‘Paddling Southern Maine…’ is different in that it focuses on a much smaller geographical area and most of the trips described don’t appear in ‘Quiet Water Maine’, or in other Maine kayaking/canoeing books.  For convenience, the book divides the region into six geographical areas - Kennebec Valley, Mid-coast, Greater Portland and Casco Bay, Androscoggin Valley, Uplands, Lakes and Mountains, and Southern Coast, the hub being Portland.  Most trips are within an hour’s drive from either Portland or other population centers of Southern Maine.

            ‘Paddling Southern Maine…’ strikes a fine balance between giving the reader the information he/she needs on the one hand and, on the other, suggesting how, during on a trip, one might discover things for oneself, i.e. in classic ‘experience by doing’ style.  For example, rather than recommending exact paddling routes, the authors encourage paddlers to find their own route rather than following where the crowd has been before – the book will get you there but you decide how far to paddle and how long to be on the water.  The general tone of the book is one of respect for the purist sport of paddling in nature where we can, ‘unplug and discover the natural world on our doorstep’, while at the same time stressing the importance of our stewardship of the fragile aquatic environment.

            Reading through some of the descriptions of the more than fifty trips in the book, it becomes clear that it is very much the authors’ intent to share with their readers their own personal experiences in these special places that they themselves have discovered.  Tidbits like ‘…in early summer, the wild irises in this stream are gorgeous’ or ‘…we’ve regularly seen a raft of twenty or more loons out here’ and, my favorite ‘ …as kids participating in scout projects building wood duck boxes, we learned that using rough cut lumber was more than an effort to camouflage the boxes into the surroundings.  The ducklings need the footholds of the raw wood, using their tiny clawed feet to climb to their doorway‘, are scattered throughout the book, enough to whet the appetite of any nature lover planning a paddling trip.  The numerous personal anecdotes and tips make this guide stand out from some of the more standardized guidebooks you might find on a kayaker’s bookshelf.

            In summary, I highly recommend, “Paddling Southern Maine…” After reviewing the book I’ve already mapped out for myself a couple of exciting possibilities for spring paddling / fishing trips in the region.  This guide is definitely not one for someone looking for an adrenalin-driven kayaking or canoeing adventure.  But I suspect there may well be more than a few seasoned sea kayakers out there who have sometimes wondered about venturing away from the open sea to the inland near-coastal and sheltered coastal waters of Southern Maine to observe the natural world at its own pace.  If that’s the case, they might well find this book to be the one that can take them there. 


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