August 7, 2011

Canoeing: Paddling Mount Desert Island's Northeast Creek

By MICHAEL PERRY

Yes, you do have that right -- we are highlighting an August paddling outing at Acadia National Park. What about summer traffic? Well, there is plenty of that, but with a little planning and good timing, any stress and delays getting through Ellsworth can be minimized. An exploration of Northeast Creek near Salsbury Cove is worth the four-hour drive from the Portland area. For absolute solitude and riparian beauty, this five-mile round-trip outing is hard to top.

click image to enlarge

The view looking south from the Route 3 bridge at the put-in site.

Michael Perry photo

We visited at midday so did not see a great abundance of wildlife, but that allowed us to focus on the infinite shades of green in the surrounding grasses, the puffy cumulus clouds building to the north and the sound of southerly breezes rushing through marsh grasses and treetops. Around one bend we came upon a mother black duck with five youngsters mimicking her every move. We wondered how fast those feet must have been paddling to be able to stay ahead of our breeze-aided canoe. Then they were gone in a flash, taking a sharp left turn up into a narrow channel.

A muskrat swam along the edge of the reeds on our right. Later we would hear a chorus of plops as small turtles left their perches on the reedy banking and sought the safety of the water. Dragonflies flitted to and fro in search of bugs, while the soothing song of common yellowthroat floated out from the nearby forest. Cranberry bushes lined much of the marsh and were just starting to put out tiny green berries.

Two kayakers passed us on our way up the meandering stream. We shared an instant kinship at our good fortune to be in such a peaceful and beautiful spot far from the crowds just a few miles east of us in Bar Harbor.

Northeast Creek is a tidal estuary that extends to the southeast from the windswept waters of Mount Desert Narrows and Thomas Cove. The bridge over the creek on Route 3 impedes the flow substantially, so there is not much of a tidal range in the stream and marsh south of the bridge. When we arrived, the water was flowing out under the bridge and when we returned the water was flowing back in. Only at the short window of slack water at high tide can you safely paddle under the bridge. Otherwise there are too many exposed rocks to allow passage.

As you head down the twisting waterway, note the beautiful meadow up on the right behind two perfectly formed evergreens. A profusion of pink wild roses, blue cow vetch, yellow buttercups and daisies dot the banking and rolling pasture. On the left you will pass by a stand of good-sized larch trees displaying their dainty green needles and profusion of tiny light brown cones.

Soon the waterway enters a large circular marsh that the locals call "Fresh Meadow." All of a sudden you are staring out at three rounded mountain profiles: Cadillac, Pemetic and Sargent, east to west. We stopped and stared, enjoying the quiet, the mountain vistas and clouds billowing above us. As we ventured farther into the meadow, the mountains slowly sank into the hardwood forest bordering the waterway.

Two miles from Route 3, the stream abruptly narrows and ends within yards of the Crooked Road. A few minutes after turning around, we passed a grove of trees on the right where a marsh hawk suddenly dropped out of the treetops and flew away from us.

The backlit grasses were dazzling as we slowly paddled westward, offering a shimmering and vibrant transparency that had us wondering if the Emerald Isle itself could possibly be as magical?

We refilled our water bottles at our vehicle, carefully portaged the canoe up and over busy Route 3 and paddled the half-mile out to the ocean. On an 87-degree day, we were desperate for a swim in the invigorating waters of Thomas Bay. There were many ledges to land on at the mouth of the estuary. Two nearly identical islands rise out of the waters to the east of elongated Thomas Island. They have the perfect name: The Twinnies.

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust, in partnership with Acadia National Park and generous local land owners, have put in much work over the last few years to ensure that this precious area is protected from development. To get the latest on their progress both at Northeast Creek and on other vital projects along the coast of Maine check out the MCHT website: mcht.org.

Yes, you can get away from the crowds at Acadia in August and have a portion of the island all to yourself. One last thought about Ellsworth: Driving to the park on Route 1 through Ellsworth before 9 a.m. presents no problems. But on your return home, try to avoid the 3 p.m.-5 p.m. park exodus. For overnight camping options, Lamoine State Park is off the beaten path and provides awesome sunrise and sunset vistas plus classic views of the alpine splendor of Acadia.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map 16) for help in getting to Northeast Creek. Look for a large sprawling yellow farmhouse with red shingle roof and matching barn on the right side of Route 3, approximately two miles east of the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. A gravel pull-out is located just beyond the farmhouse. Park here. The put in is a few yards down the slope from your vehicle.

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. He can be contacted at:

michaelj_perry@comcast.net

 

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