Photo Essay: Paddling the Messalonskee

On September 15 and September 22, Colby College Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Linehan led two canoe trips on the Messalonskee River in conjunction with tours of the exhibition River Works: Whistler and the Industrial Thames. Joseph Bui ’22 photographed the trip, and Ryan offered the following thoughts on the experience (edited for clarity from a longer interview):

I actually stayed away from the exhibit before the trip because I wanted to go in with the folks I was bringing on the river and experience the show fresh. The Whistlers are amazing and so detailed. And there’s that other [Rackstraw Downes] piece of the downtown, which really tied it together. The Messalonskee does have an industrial feel to it because there are multiple dams and hydro stations, and obviously you pass under Route 95, so it’s this beautiful, serene river with no buildings on it, and then you come around the corner and here is the working waterway, with an interstate going across it and upstream the dams going across it. It is definitely utilized in many ways and that was shown in the exhibit too: how waterways are so connected with commerce, recreation, and all ways of life. 

The trip brought a lot of people from around the community together. There were Colby students, faculty, and staff but also lots of people from the community. There was a young couple from Georgia who had just moved up here and this was their first interaction with Colby . . . it was really cool to see who came.

I’ve been paddling on the Messalonskee for six years, because that’s when I came to Maine . . . it’s right off of campus and a beautiful paddle. One of the first things I organized at Colby was a river cleanup on the Messalonskee. It was around Earth Day, and the students were looking for a project and we had canoes and a trailer so we borrowed a truck and headed down to the river and filled our canoes with all sorts of debris—even tires—which was great. There was years of built-up debris, especially because lots of trash comes off cars traveling above on I-95. After a few yearly cleanups we were able to get it under control. On the River Works trips you could really see the impact: I only picked up three or four pieces of trash on the route. The springtime is when a lot of trash is left out because the greenery sort of hides the shore, but it’s actually in really good shape right now.

When I was running the cleanups we only covered one part of the stream—I know there are plenty of stewards of the waterway who live farther down it and pick up trash when they see it, but I would love to start up a wider-ranging cleanup again in the coming years.

All photographs by Joseph Bui ’22