Saturday, September 11, 2010

The canals of Bangor

Summary: 6 miles launch: beach at Hamlin Marina. Lots of parking, flush toilets. Dana’s Grill closed on Labor Day : (
Update:  Dana's Grill is now McLaughlin's and is open later in the season.  Bangor's kayak dock has moved to the south corner of the docks.
The Kenduskeag canal is one of the prettiest paddles in the Bangor area. You can launch your boat from the kayak dock on the waterfront. But, for a longer paddle, we launch from Hamlin Marina in Hampden, and ride the tide up and down.
This may not be the best paddle to do in the spring, when high water keeps the downstream currents in the Penobscot and Kenduskeag fairly high. It’s also not a paddle to do on a spring tide, especially if there’s been a lot of rain recently. A spring tide is one of the higher tides of the month which come right after a new or full moon. Spring tides can also be identified by time: high tides which occur between 11AM and 1:30PM. This is a picture of Hamlin Marina at a high spring tide. The normal edge is shown by the arrow at the grass.

The water height at the edge looks to be about 8 inches deep, Mark shows how high it is.

I guess it wouldn’t ruin a car, but I suggest unloading near the beach and moving the car back to the rear corner while you’re paddling. More importantly, some of the bridges on the canals are low, when water is flowing over the edge at Hamlin Marina it may be grazing the bottoms of those bridges, trapping you below them if you haven’t started up the Kenduskeag, or above them, if you’ve squeezed under the bridges on an incoming tide.
Another view of the marina.

The paddle to Bangor is enjoyable because of the variable terrain. Hamlin Marina is located by an old sawmill, the shore is built up of stacked logs. A beaver waits out the high tide on a lodge built in the cribwork.
Lots of flowers bloom along the shore.

At the first corner, eagles are frequently found. Once while paddling we surprised a poor eagle and it dropped its half eaten fish on our boat.
Then around the corner is Hughes gravel pit, whose shores seem to be a collection of scrap metal. Beyond that is a second marina, and informal RV park, and across the river the Cianbro plant in Brewer(also built by cribwork.)
Next are oil storage tanks, and sewage treatment plants, handily located on both sides of the river. But up ahead is the high 395 bridge, in elegant white cement.
Above the bridge is an asphalt cement factory, and then Bangor’s waterfront comes into view.
In the 1800’s thousands of schooners piled the Penobscot, landing in Bangor and leaving loaded with timber. By 1983 Bill Caldwell, author of Rivers of Fortune, claims there was no place to anchor a boat. He was riding on a Coast Guard ice breaker which wound up mooring on a pile of junk near a railroad track. Now there is a dock, divided between guest and summer slots.
Just beyond the docks is the opening to the Kenduskeag. The Kenduskeag Stream was over 400 feet wide when settlers first came to the area. By the 1800’s businesses had narrowed the stream to 250 feet. Warren Manning, a Boston landscaper, thought to install the Norembega Mall after the Great Bangor Fire in 1911, removing dilapidated building and cribwork, and replacing them with canals reminiscent of Venice.
The first bridge is a railroad bridge, then come three pedestrian bridges, followed by two street bridges, while you paddle beside parking lots, banks and the new courthouse. The second street bridge, State Street Bridge plays an infamous role in Bangor history, since it is the bridge from which Charles Howard, an openly gay man, was thrown to his death in 1984. There is now a garden on the south side of the bridge dedicated to his memory.
Above State Street bridge the buildings shift to older buildings built in the early 1900’s. And beneath the bridges, pigeons lurk and unidentified pipes carry who knows what. The canal divides about the Norumbega Mall, the north side has pedestrian bridges going to Norumbega Hall, which currently houses the University of Maine Art Museum.
Central Street is the next road bridge. Notice how the Bangor Savings Building echos the curves of the Franklin Street Bridge.
After the Franklin Street Bridge the canals shift to being a river, overlooked by Condos and a streamside path. Further up, you’ll pass under a pedestrian bridge built on the base of the old Morse Covered Bridge.
On some tides you can paddle up under Valley Avenue Bridge, and after that rocks in tend to make the stream impassable. Looks to be as far as we can go!
Time to turn around and head downstream.
Norembega Mall is also an enjoyable stroll, here are some shots from an evening stroll, note how low the canal is.
And the fine brickwork on the older buildings.
Finally, these footsteps appeared by the edge of the canal just below the State Street Bridge. Who has read Stephen King’s It?


  1. Didn't see the posting when you first made it. Very enjoyable. One day while looking down into the water near Bangor Savings Bank, I saw eels eating a dead pigeon.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I guess I'm just as happy to have missed the dead pigeon though.... One winter there was an otter on the ice at the mouth of the Kenduskeag; right there by the bridge! Quite a sight! And this summer a wounded bear was rescued from under one of the bridges in town. I'm just as glad we missed that too!

  3. UPDATE 2011: Bangor has opened a new paddle launch, and closed the one by the Chamberlain Bridge. The new launch is on the Penobscot River, on the south side of the city docks.