Maine’s Forgotten Rivers

Inaccessible by road. Difficult to access on foot. Hidden by sections of woods or bluffs. Curving through secluded woods near the center of town or winding through a patch of wilderness between towns.

Most often, these forgotten stretches are on the smaller rivers — the Sheepscot or St. George, rather than the Kennebec or the Penobscot. Take a look at these rivers today and it’s hard to imagine that they were once bustling corridors of commerce, trade, and industry. But testimonies to their history remain. Hidden in the underbrush along the St. George River in Searsmont are the remnants of a canal system designed to bring barges up to Searsmont. It’s hard to travel more than a mile along the Sheepscot or the Passagassawakeag and not come along the remnants of an old bridge or dam or mill.

And these forgotten rivers offer natural beauty and opportunities for recreation along with their history. A dozen miles north of Machias lies a pitch of whitewater known as “Great Falls” that is not written up in most river guides and is omitted from most whitewater canoe trips. A few miles south of that is the remnants of a canal system that was used in log drives. Beyond that, in Whitneyville, is another fairly spectacular set of waterfalls, viewable from the road, that somehow seems to draw little attention to itself.

Less than 10 miles west of there, the Pleasant River offers its own surprises. After miles of switchbacks and slow-water-meandering through the Great Heath and the blueberry barrens of Columbia, it quickens its pace through sections of picturesque Class II rapids as it descends to the village of Columbia Falls. These are a few sections of river I’ve been fortunate to explore by kayak this spring.

It’s a little sad that so many of our miles of rivers have been forgotten. Again and again, I am struck by the beauty that has been “lost” on so many of us. Once you get started and see the possibilities, exploring these little-known rivers is fairly addictive. If I don’t get my lawn mowed this weekend, it’s because I took out the Delorme Atlas again and have been lured off to explore yet another forgotten section of river.

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