Sometimes Plan B works out to be even better than Plan A. Our initial plan was to paddle Cobbosseecontee Stream from Horseshoe Pond in West Gardiner northward for a few hours, but the water level was so high we could not limbo our way under the Route 126-9 bridge to head upstream. Option B: Explore Horseshoe Pond before heading downstream to Pleasant Pond, and then an up and back on Cold Stream before returning to Horseshoe Pond. This is all flatwater paddling – with no perceivable current.
While there are many camps along portions of the route, there are also long stretches of undeveloped shoreline and secluded marshes to poke in and out. On our six-hour meander we enjoyed a remarkable variety of birdlife and about 50 sightings of painted turtles sunning on logs.
Tree swallows filled the air, flitting to and fro in pursuit of emerging insects, their white chests and shiny blue backs brilliant in the sun. A bevy of rust-breasted barn swallows zoomed out from under the Dennis Hill Road bridge south of Horseshoe Pond as we glided under it. Many mud-caked nests adorned the girder shelves.
Beaver activity was evident. Downed trees and gnawed stumps lined the shoreline. Some were chewed recently while others were decades old and looked like fat stalagmites emerging up out of the water. The vast activity made sense because the lodges we saw were some of the largest we have ever seen in Maine.
Soon the stream takes a hard turn to the east toward I-95. Don’t be daunted by the noise of passing vehicles. After you pass under the I-95 bridge and the adjacent Pond Road bridge you will enter a sinuous channel leading a half-mile out to Pleasant Pond. A verdant meadow on the left sloped down to water’s edge, offering a sharp contrast to the ragged gray sky. Birds were everywhere. Three Baltimore orioles chased each other through the brush on the south side of the channel. We were able to easily follow them through the tangle given the brilliance of their orange chests. A solitary osprey sat on top of a dead beanpole-shaped tree in the middle of the channel. A pair of wood ducks paddled away from us and disappeared up into the reeds along the shoreline. Is there anything more dazzling in Maine nature than the showy colors and regal artistry of the male wood duck?
We paddled around to the right into elongated Pleasant Pond and landed on a hillock adorned with beech and white pine, offering a far-reaching view down the sun-splashed expanse of Pleasant Pond. This looks like a great spot to swim, but the chilly day kept us onshore admiring the carpets of wood anemone and their delicate white flowers.
Back in the canoe we started to retrace our route back up the stream but noticed what looked like a huge paper wasp nest near the top of a dead tree at the end of the opposite point. As we neared we got out the binoculars and filled the frame with a magnificent mottled female bald eagle surveying the expanse of water.
The two-mile paddle up Cold Stream is secluded except for a short stretch of camps on the western side of the stream. There is a nice stand of tall pines and hemlocks along the stream offering a comforting closed-in feeling. As you near Route 126-9 you will see a tall hay silo up near the road. You can walk the two miles west to your vehicle or paddle the six miles back.
We were glad we paddled back because we saw a number of blue herons along the way and two pairs of Canada geese, each leading four fluffy yellow goslings through the meadow grasses along the shore. Carpets of white cuckooflowers spread from open meadows into the forest floor along Cobbosseecontee Stream. While passing by a wooded island in Horseshoe Pond we came upon a mature bald eagle looking down at us from a dead tree limb, and then spied seven turkey vultures circling in the updrafts above the low ridge west of the pond.
Back at our vehicle we were delighted to find fresh salad ingredients for that evening’s meal; the tender leaves of sheep sorrel that would provide a tangy vinegar-like flavor to our greens. All in all it was a great day on and off the water despite the change in plans.
Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map 12) for help in getting to Horseshoe Pond. There is no official boat launch site but there is plenty of room to park on the south side of the road and launch off the embankment a few hundred yards west of the flashing light at the intersection of Bog Hill Road and Route 126-9.
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 him at: