Friday, August 20, 2010

Stillwater River

Basics: Stillwater River launching from the campus power plant parking lot. Parking plentiful when college is not in session. Portapottie.

Two kayaks run into a bar, or more accurately a ledge. Sounds like a tidal joke. But it’s also a description of paddling in the low water on Stillwater. Running into a ledge again and again. For a clear still river, it probably put a year’s wear on the boats.
We launched from the emergency boat ramp by the power plant. The ramp is new, installed sometime after 2006, and is closed by a locked gate. The gate bears a sign stating not to block the ramp. (It does not forbid it’s use by hand-carried boats.)
We headed upstream first, admiring the little red flowers.

Up by the dam was a flock of geese. Not a small flock, a huge flock, well over one hundred geese, far more than I’d want on my river.
Mostly we stayed away from the geese, these few were on our side.
The dam looked almost dry, but there was a sheen of water flowing over it.

I hear that water levels are near drought conditions due to the warm, dry weather we’ve been enjoying this summer. The low water levels made it much easier to explore this close to the dam. However there is a warning posted.

We poked between the islands where I spotted what looked like a house built of planks underwater.

I tried a few times to get a picture of it, with no luck. But it did appear that the islands were built up a waste lumber, the trim and bark slices from sawmills located upstream. In 1886 George Varney gives the following description of sawmills in Old Town “On these different powers are four large mills for long lumber, three for shingles and short lumber, and a grist-mill. The size of these mills will be apprehended better by an enumeration of saws. In 1870 two blocks of mills here formerly owned by Samuel Veazie, contained 14 single saws, 5 tang, 3 shingle, 2 clapboard and 4 lath mills. These usually run about seven months in the year, manufacturing in that time, 25,000,000 feet of long lumber, 4,500,000 shingles, 1,000,000 clapboards, 13,500,000 laths, pickets, etc. There are also three steam saw-mills. The smaller manufactures consist of two barrel factories, a batteaux, a brush-wood, a sample case, a saw-filing machine, and an oar factory, together with the handicraft work usually found in our villages.”
The unexpected sound of a jackhammer appeared through the woods, and a short ways on we saw men working on the dam and the temporary spillway they’d created.

Here’s a joke that’s always funny, when you are riding in an air conditioned car with an outside thermometer you can note the temperature, “Gee, it’s 89 degrees.” Then add, “Funny, it doesn’t feel like it.”
Another joke which is always funny is to gather apples from the stream then throw the apple and yell “fish” or “seal.” So when I heard the splash beside me I turned to see the apple. Instead I saw a six inch long fish making a second leap, convinced I was a large dolphin in pursuit and its very life dependent was on escaping over the ledge.
Continuing along the Orono town side we passed a number of turtles. Eventually, we paddled over one foot round white ball solidly on the bottom. Perhaps one time it was a fine addition to a post greeting a road.
Under the bridge and by an island labeled as a wildlife refuge. I can’t find any references to the refuge online, perhaps it is a refuge defined by the hydroelectric company.

The island warned of the upcoming dam, but a passing canoe assured us we would have no troubles with the current should we round the island. That is probably different when the water is high. Shortly beyond that are the buoys warning of the falls.

So it was time to turn around and head back to the start. On the way back we elected the passage through the island.

And all through the journey, unexpectedly we’d hit ledge, the ledge is dark, the same color as the river bottom, so it’s not quite as unobservant as it might sound. Still, I guess its a warning to be more alert than us.

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