September 1, 2013

Canoeing: For quintessential Maine: Take Dyer River, head north

By MICHAEL PERRY

For end of summer peace and quiet in a beautiful setting, put your canoe in at the mouth of the Dyer River in the village of Sheepscot and head north for a few hours. The Dyer River meets the Sheepscot River at the launch site behind the Garrison Hill Grange. You can park in a small space along the road east of the grange. A rough path leads a few yards down to the Sheepscot River. Paddle under the bridge spanning the Dyer River and follow its winding channel up through vast tracts of marsh grasses, bordered by distant forests and the occasional hillside pasture. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #7) for help in getting there.

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The Sheepscot Reversing Falls, a half-mile south of the Sheepscot River Bridge, are well-known among paddlers for the challenging waters created at mid-tide.

Michael Perry Photos

click image to enlarge

Put in at the mouth of the Dyer River – the launch site is near the Garrison Hill Grange – and head north for a trip that will seem to have stepped from classic postcards.

The Dyer River is tidal at its mouth. Brackish water fills the wide channel for the first few miles. Gradually you will start to notice a change in vegetation as brackish gives way to fresh water flowing south from Dyer Long Pond in Jefferson. You start out with seaweed at the launch site, and by the time you near Route 194 in North Newcastle you will be paddling past beaver lodges, streamside alders, and ever increasing patches of pickerelweed. The water at the start looks like chocolate milk, and miles up the river it has subtly turned into root beer.

The marsh grasses are beautiful in the low morning light. Nature's ceaseless brush strokes -- wind, rain, and tide -- have created an endless variety of grassy "hairstyles" at water's edge. Sparrows flitted in and out of the grasses only feet away from us. Red-winged blackbirds were everywhere. Osprey circled in the sky above us. A solitary cormorant perched on a shelf of mud solemnly watched us pass.

The channel meanders back and forth. A few miles from the launch site the forests start to get closer to the river. You will have a forest on your left for a while, then the channel will meander east and you will have forest on your right. As you head upriver you will encounter two amazing oxbows; for a few minutes you will be paddling south to go north, and on your return you will be paddling north to go south. By the end of your outing you will have paddled every direction possible.

Three miles from the launch site you will pass under a power line. Trees start leaning out over the channel after this point, providing beautiful reflections in the still water. We stopped to slowly breathe in the rich fragrance of streamside pines.

Soon you will come to a downed tree spanning the river. There is just enough room to paddle under it far to the left. A few minutes beyond is another downed tree that requires portaging if you want to continue onward toward Route 194. We turned around here after two leisurely hours of paddling and headed back. A beaver slapped its tail and rustled through the marsh grasses behind us. A turkey vulture hovered above.

The seven large, white domestic geese that had greeted us back at the Dyer River bridge were still there. A flock of sheep now appeared in a nearby pasture. The white steeple of Sheepscot Community Church gazed out over the two rivers. The scene could not have been more perfect -- classic Maine.

A half-mile south of the Sheepscot River bridge, the river narrows and makes a dogleg turn to the west. Here lie in wait the Sheepscot Reversing Falls, known far and wide for their challenging whitewater rips and waves at mid-tide. We paddled down to a big ledge protruding out into the frothing water to watch two skilled play-boaters surfing in the waves.

Before heading home we drove a mile west over to the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum on Cross Road. Maine was the only state to build and successfully operate two-foot gauge common carrier railroads. The museum offers a 5-mile round-trip train ride up to Alna and back, reliving the glory years of the narrow gauge. This line reached 43 miles north from Wiscasset to Albion and operated from 1894 to 1933. The original intent was to run the line all the way up to Quebec, but investment money dried up and the project stopped at Albion. Check out the museum's Model T Ford rail car -- amazing! A whole day could be spent here -- we will be back.

 

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.

michaelj_perry@comcast.net

 

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