The kiosk at the put-in location on the Cathance River in Bowdoinham is a good starting point.  Christine Wolfe photo

It doesn’t sound enticing does it – the Muddy River? Don’t let the name deceive you. This 2-mile wilderness gem is one of the best places in southern Maine to enjoy the return of spring. But with no public access, you are going to have to do a bit of extra work to get there.

A snapping turtle wallows in the mud. Christine Wolfe photo

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 6) for help in getting to Bowdoinham.  From there, it means launching your canoe at the Mailly Waterfront Park in Bowdoinham and paddling down the Cathance River out into Merrymeeting Bay. You then travel down along the western shoreline to the Foreside Road bridge and the beginning of the river. This scenic 3-mile preamble will take about 90 minutes. The river is tidal and best enjoyed within the time frame of three hours before high tide and three hours after.

It only took 10 minutes before we spied a bald eagle circling the Cathance in search of food. We would see three more as the day unfolded. Sandpipers flitted along the shoreline to our right.

After passing under two power lines you suddenly enter out into the large expanse of Merrymeeting Bay. You will see the sharp profile of Pleasant Point to the south. Paddle toward the middle of the point and then start angling right toward the mouth of Muddy River. You will not see the Foreside Road bridge until you are within 100 yards of it.

A green heron looks out over the Muddy River for a possible fish to catch. Christine Wolfe photo

At the last turn before the bridge we spied a large flat gray object on the shoreline to our right. We paddled over to check it out and found a large snapping turtle resting in the sun comfortably burrowed into the mud. It lifted its reptilian head up and peered at us. We were eyeball to eyeball with it. The incoming tide lapped at its shell. Like us, it was slowly transitioning from winter slumber to spring revitalization.  A flash of white caught our eye, and we spied a deer bounding through the marsh grasses 20 yards away.

Once under the bridge you enter a world of dried cattail stalks and twisted cottonwood trees, brilliant in their yellow-green leaves and accentuated  by the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky. Canada geese mingled on the grassy shoreline and on the water. Black ducks and mallards lifted skyward at every turn. A pair of kingfishers chattered away ahead of us as they flew from one perch to another.

We saw a large bird fly into a tree to our right and got out our binoculars and bird guide. As usual I made the hasty wrong choice and blurted out,

A greater yellowlegs enjoys the water. Christine Wolfe photo

“It’s a bittern.” Not so fast. My wife scanned a few more pages and came up with the correct identification; a green heron. It was breathtakingly beautiful with its artistic delicate white lines on its folded gray wings and striking array of colors head to toe. After a few minutes it dropped out of the tree with a loud squawk, and with strong and purposeful wingbeats went in search of another treetop.

Red-winged blackbird calls echoed about the flat savanna-like landscape, many of the birds watching us from the tops of waterside cattail stalks. As we headed back toward the bridge we heard a loud beaver tail slap on the water behind us and stopped to wait for it to appear. It came up only feet away. As it readied to slap its tail again it stretched out before us. We were amazed at how big it was. A minute later a smaller brown head appeared along the shoreline. Another beaver? No, a muskrat.

It was time to paddle the 3 miles back up to the park. As we entered Merrymeeting Bay a flock of 20 yellowlegs flew in unison out of the grass and landed 50 yards ahead of us, the white under their wings brilliant against the brown marsh grasses.

This article was written about an outing we enjoyed here the end of last May. In a few weeks it is likely that more of Maine will be opening up. The Muddy River provides an exceptional first paddle of the season. A canoe provides the perfect social distancing craft, designed with the proper spacing between bow and stern.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools.

Contact: [email protected]

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