A few days ago, on a day forecast to be not too cold, but a bit blustery, I met Nate and John in Ellsworth for a trip up the Union River. Nate happens to live right at the mouth of the river, so we launched from his back yard and headed upstream.
We were a little late for high tide, so we paddled around -and sometimes through big sheets of ice that had loosened in the current and drifted downstream. We found eddies along the shore that helped carry us along. It is a surprisingly woodsy stretch of water, considering the shopping plaza sprawl not far away. And, thanks to a denser fish population, the river is probably a more dependable place to come across seals and eagles than out among the islands.
When I think of Ellsworth, my first image is of the gauntlet of commerce one passes through en route to Mount Desert Island or the Down East coast. It's the place we put up with if we feel the need to go to a big box store, but there is also a nice old, lesser-traveled downtown with a great theater, shops and restaurants. So, arriving through the city's back door on the Union River is a reminder of why all that civilization ended-up there in the first place. It's a small miracle that most of the river is fairly undeveloped. Even in town, there's stretches of forested shoreline with granite outcrops rising out of the water. Past the public ramp is an solid stretch of industrial development: the water treatment plant, an oil tank farm, and a hodge-podge of buildings turning their backs to the river. There's been some efforts for the city to buy some of the waterfront to take better advantage of the river, but it's a slow process.
The current increased as we made our way around a bend and passed beneath the bridge. I've driven over the bridge countless times, and I've always glanced down at the river, wondering what it would be like down there. Now I know: it's better than being up there.
Just upstream from the bridge we came to a rapids. Nate paddled as far up into it as he could, surfing on a wave or two, but it wasn't passable.
Even if it were, we wouldn't get past the Leonard Lake Dam just upstream. But it made us think about warmer days, portages, following the river to its source. We ate our lunch on a park bench, just below the library, and paddled back downstream.