If you are looking for a paddling outing providing prime foliage viewing, it is hard to make a poor selection anywhere in western Maine. We have always enjoyed paddling in the Bethel area in October, so recently we drove up to Woodstock on Route 26 for a two-hour morning paddle on Bryant Pond.

This 276-acre pond is surrounded by hills and ridges both near and far. On the western side of the pond towers a precipitous ridgeline slashed with diagonal bands of cliffs, and painted with the pastels of autumn. A deep blue sky rose above the ridge, punctuated with the white disk of a waning crescent moon.

There are many cottages along the shoreline, and that is part of the attraction. Many of these classic Maine getaways are over a century old and capture the essence of rusticating in the early 1900s. Nestled in under the western slope is Dreamhome, a graceful wooden shrine to leisurely summer living. Many a loon call has found its way through its screened windows since its creation in 1916. The view out over the pond has not changed much over the years, except for the distant view of three of the wind turbines of the Spruce Mountain Wind Project on hills to the east.

A little further north of the house are the remains of a rock slide that ripped down the cliffs years ago, with many giant boulders now tottering at water’s edge and a few sticking up out of the inshore shallows.

The striking vertical cliffs of the western ridge line of Bryant Pond Christine Wolfe photo

Up near the northwestern end of the pond we came upon a beautiful stone building nestled in under towering white pines. This former summer home of the Freeman family, built in 1892, became part of the Maine Conservation Camp in 1959 and is now operated as the University of Maine 4-H Camp & Learning Center. As we admired the stonework from afar, a group of schoolkids were excitedly getting into a fleet of canoes for some exploring of the pond. Much joy echoed over the water the next hour, mixing with loon calls. We laughed at our quaint educational beliefs of “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

A small community park borders the northern end of the pond. You can land on the small ribbon of beach here and check out the modest Bryant Cemetery a few yards to the left. Headstones mark the grave sites of one Revolutionary War soldier and two veterans of the War of 1812.

Wind-whipped red pines lean out over the western shoreline of Bryant Pond Christine Wolfe photo

The shoreline of the pond provides a variety of delights; shallow rock gardens inviting you to test your tandem slalom turns, large hemlocks leaning out over the water, beech tree leaves dazzling your eyes with their golden tones magnified by the sun. On the eastern edge of the pond we paddled over yards of baked potatoes; well, really small round rocks covered with brown pond debris.

From certain spots along the eastern shoreline if you stop and look north you will see the high peaks of the Sunday River-Grafton Notch area rising above the gentle hills east of Bethel.

After circling the pond, my wife and I and were chatting about the scattering of wonderful old boathouses we had seen along the shoreline. We came up with a million-dollar idea; spend a few years paddling Maine lakes taking pictures of boathouses and create a best-selling calendar of Classic Maine Boathouses. Feel free to run with this “pie-in-the-sky” idea.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 10) for help in getting to the State of Maine boat launch on the Rowe Hill Road in Woodstock at the southern end of the pond.

You are paddling amidst history in the community of Bryant Pond. It was the last community in the United States to use crank style phones, with the last call made October 11, 1983. A can’t miss 14-foot high model of a crank phone sits on the west side of Route 26 as you leave town toward Bethel.

The ride to and from Woodstock is full of post-paddle opportunities. Stop in and check out what’s happening at the Shaker Village at Sabbathday Pond; admire the rushing waters of Snow Falls in Oxford; visit a farm stand for apples and tangy cider. Delay those fall yard chores for as long as you can.

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: [email protected]

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