By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
SEARSMONT — Bring a fishing rod and a camera and enjoy nature and history along the Canal Path, an interesting hike along the St. George River in this rural Waldo County town.
Rising at Lake St. George in Liberty, the river flows south through the hills stretching from Searsmont to Warren; the river reaches the sea at Thomaston. Lovely ponds — Sennebec and Seven Tree, among others — interrupt the river’s flow across rips and rocks, and anglers often pursue their passion along the often heavily wooded shore.
Pleasure fishing was far from the minds of entrepreneurs who built a canal along the St. George River from Searsmont to Thomaston in the mid-19th century. Averaging 15 feet in width, the shallow Georges River Canal incorporated dams and locks to move low-keeled barges and boats hauling farm products (including lumber and produce) downriver to Thomaston and finished goods and supplies upriver to businesses and residents in interior Knox and Waldo counties.
Operational for less than 10 years, the Georges River Canal closed, and Mother Nature reclaimed what hard labor had wrested from her. Most canal sections vanished, but a joint project involving the Georges River Land Trust and the Robbins Lumber Co. has created the Canal Path, which winds along the beautiful St. George River to reach a well-preserved section of the original canal. Shaped like a lollipop, the trail is a 2-mile round trip.
Anglers, history buffs, and nature-lovers alike can access the trailhead by taking Route 131 to Searsmont and turning east on the Ghent Road; watch for the large Robbins Lumber Co. sign. Drive across the bridge and pull into the parking lot south of the road.
The trail head lies west across the river, beside which stands a water-powered sawmill operated years ago by the Robbins family. Walk across the bridge and turn left (south) through an opening in the guardrail.
Near the riverbank, an information kiosk displays a large map and aerial photo of the Canal Path; brochures are available here. Beyond the kiosk, the Canal Path parallels the fast-flowing St. George River while winding through woods owned by Robbins Lumber Co.
At different stations along the trail, a sign identifies the particular site (Stations 1-8). Refer to the brochure to learn about each site; four of the first five coincide with Robbins Lumber tree-harvesting operations involving white pine, spruce-fir, and some hardwoods.
Anglers use this trail to reach favorite fishing holes along the river, and everyone hiking along the trail should stop at river’s edge for a few minutes to enjoy the scenery. Watch for birds and the occasional red squirrel; sometimes a porcupine might stir high in a tree.
Some distance south of Station 5, the Canal Path reaches the half-mile Robbins Section of the Georges River Canal. After crossing rock steps at the northern edge of the canal, a hiker reaches a small kiosk that provides interesting information about the Robbins Section.
It includes four locks, all accessed by the Canal Path, which turns east beyond Lock No. 1 (the southernmost lock) and forms a loop along the river before interesting itself at Lock No. 3.
With its strategically located bog bridges and minimal elevation changes, the Canal Path is an easy hike on a pleasant day. Admission is free; the only price is the investment in time to explore history and nature along a lesser-known, but scenic Midcoast river.