If I had to pick a favorite whitewater run in the Bangor region, without hesitation I would say the Marsh Stream. The main reason why I like it is it’s like paddling on a different stream with every 6 inches of change in the water level.
When there is ample rain or snowmelt the stream rises very fast, and when the rain stops the level drops off just as quick. No wonder the local whitewater kayakers were all excited when the rain was coming down in sheets in late April, boosting the Marsh to a water level over four feet.
The stream has about five major features, but there are many more small waves that form and provide good play spots along the way. The group that I paddle with refers to the features under the following names, in order of appearance: First Rapid, Pine Island, Surf Spot, Flat Rock and the Last Rapid.
We put in above the railroad bridge on the Stream Road in Winterport and the fun begins. The First Drop and Pine Island are rapids with few opportunities to play, but the small set of rapids after Pine Island ends with a great surfing wave that keeps most of us weekend warriors happy.
The one feature people should be very careful with is Flat Rock. It has the best place ever to scout for possible lines or to do a portage. When the water is down you can hardly ride down the long exposed ledge as the boats just tend to scrape along. However, at medium or higher water (let’s say over 2.5 feet) the rooster-taillike wave at the bottom is big and intimidating.
To get flipped there is a natural and usual occurrence on these runs. It just happens that the stream saved the best for last. Everyone likes the wave train of the Last Rapid, and it offers a very good opportunity for surfing.
When the water level is at or above 3.5 feet the waves get fast and steep, allowing only the more experienced paddlers to surf in a controlled fashion. I can safely say that I pretty much learned whitewater kayaking on this stream, with a lot of guiding from a few friends.
I can also say that I’m far from mastering it. Each rapid provides a different challenge and when you are tired, or do not pay attention, the water will get you. I unintentionally swam three of the five rapids and I’m sure I will find a way to swim the other two. I just have to find the time to paddle the Marsh more.