Far from the noise of Sebasticook Valley traffic, a quiet, natural world awaits folks willing to paddle canoes or kayaks along the region’s numerous rivers and streams.
“You can always count on seeing wildlife, always going to see eagles, ospreys, great blue herons, kingfishers,” said St. Albans resident Doug Spalding, who owns a landscape photography studio and hand-crafts wooden canoes and kayaks. He dips a paddle into the Sebasticook Valley waterways whenever he can.
“It’s so peaceful,” Spalding said. “Once you get out on the water a little bit, you can’t hear anything.
“You can go way up some of these feeder streams” during high water, he indicated. “You see all sorts of wildlife,” including “giant snapping turtles.”
Spalding has written extensively about Sebasticook Valley paddling opportunities at www.dougspalding.com. Click on “Links” and then on “Paddling in Maine.” Among the beautiful places he recommends for peaceful paddling are:
• Corundel Pond, a hidden gem in Corinna.
“Corundel Pond was hidden for years behind the old Striar’s woolen mill,” Spalding writes. “Once the mill came down and the river was re-routed, the pond became much more visible.”
To reach Corundel Pond, drive past the gazebo on Main Street in Corinna and turn right once past a housing complex. Launch “at the end of the access road … and move your car back a bit so others can launch after you head onto the water,” Spalding writes.
“If you take this trip in a leisurely fashion, you’ll be back at your car in less than 2 hours” after paddling around the pond. “On the other hand, you can investigate every little streamlet, have a picnic along the way, and make the trip last a fair part of a day.”
He reports seeing otters, eagles, and ospreys during one excursion on Corundel Pond. The East Branch of the Sebasticook River flows through the pond and then downstream to Sebasticook Lake.
• The West Branch of the Sebasticook River from Pittsfield upstream to Hartland.
This paddling trip “begins at the local Pinnacle Ski Clubhouse on Waverly Avenue in Pittsfield,” Spalding writes. Parking is available at the launch site.
“After launching, take an immediate left to head upstream,” Spalding says. A short distance upstream, paddlers pass beneath the two Interstate 95 bridges. “I always find it interesting to be under bridges,” he comments. “Sometimes it makes me wonder just how often anyone takes a took at the understructure of our bridges.”
The West Branch soon widens into Douglas Pond. “Should you want to at this point, head to the right side of the boggy pond and see if you can locate the outlet from the Madawaska Bog,” Spalding says while recommending another paddling excursion.
Upriver along the West Branch, late July sees cardinal flowers blooming in shallow water. Spalding lists several bird species — ducks, Eastern kingbirds, great blue herons, kingfishers, and swallows — that he sees along the river, and “there’s ample evidence of beaver in the stream.”
A paddler soon passes beneath the Route 2 bridge in Palmyra, approximately 1½ hours from the launch site in Pittsfield. Spalding says that a paddler continuing upriver to Hartland will pass the concrete plant and the pollution control facility and approach the tannery in downtown Hartland.
“This is a really nice trip for several reasons, not the least of which is that this part of the river has little development on it. It’s a good trip to pack a picnic lunch and spend the whole day on the water. I prefer the larger canoe when taking a lot of gear, but you get to decide which of your boats to use on any day.”
• Little Indian Pond in St. Albans.
Travel north from downtown St. Albans on Route 152 for a mile, then bear right on the Grant Road and drive for 1½ miles. Turn right onto the Ballard Road; at its end, turn right (south) onto the Ripley Road (Route 23). Cross a large culvert at 0.1 miles; Indian Pond lies on the right and Little Indian Pond on the left.
Park on the left and follow the launch path to the water. “Watch out for the large patch of poison ivy on the side of the launch path,” Spalding cautions.
“With a boggy shoreline most of the way around the pond, there is little development, so it’s a quiet place to visit,” Spalding says. “Twenty minutes of paddling east by several beaver lodges on the northern shore brought me to Ripley Stream on the left, the inlet of the pond. There were wild irises on the banks. Eastern kingbirds and tree swallows flew about gathering mosquitoes.
“After 45 minutes on Ripley Stream I was back on the pond, where the breeze had picked up dramatically,” he says. “Cormorants and loons swam together, bothered only slightly by my canoe as it passed by within fifty feet of them. A blue-winged teal landed and disappeared into the reeds on the shoreline. Red-winged blackbirds shrilled from the alders on shore.
“This is a trip you can take before heading in to work on a spring or summer day. I was home is less than 2½ hours,” Spalding says.
• East Branch of the Sebasticook River-Sebasticook Lake to Corinna.
To reach the launch site, drive north on Route 7 from the Newport Triangle. About 4½-5 miles from Newport, turn right onto the County Road and drive about 1½ miles to the launch-site parking lot, located on the right.
The East Branch of the Sebasticook River flows from Corinna to reach Sebasticook Lake at the launch site. After launching, paddle beneath the County Road bridge while staying to the right.
“Stay close to the right-hand side of the river” because “the water shallows, but a canoe will pass through the water plants easily enough,” Spalding says.. Ten minutes upstream, “the reeds present a passage into the wider part of the stream. You may hear the ospreys and kingfishers before you see them hunting for fish.
“About 30 minutes into this trip, I came to an island covered with cattails,” he says. “From a distance the cattails seemed to be covered in whitish fur. On closer examination the ‘fur’ turned into thousands of bank swallows resting on the slender reeds. They didn’t fly until I was quite near them.”
By staying to the right, a paddler “can explore several inlets,” including Alder Stream and the East Branch of the Sebasticook River, flowing from Corundel Pond in Corinna. “Neither is navigable” to upstream ponds “because of the trees [that] beavers have dropped into the streams, but all the inlet streams are intriguing. One gets the sensation of being in Florida swamps as the channels narrow up and the overhanging trees close in above you,” Spalding says.
At this point, turn around and paddle downstream to the launch site. While he was doing so, Spalding saw “a bald eagle overhead and a pair of loons close by,” and “a deer silently slipped into the stream to swim out to a small island as I passed by in the canoe.”
And Spalding cautions canoeists and kayakers to “as always, remember to clean any vegetation off your boats before you leave the area so as not to transport invasive plants to the next body of water you visit.”
The sun sets the dawn clouds aglow over Little Indian Pond in the Sebasticook Valley. Professional photographer Doug Spalding took this photo while paddling his canoe on the quiet pond.