HANOVER — The 16th annual Source to the Sea Trek entered the heart of the River Valley on Thursday with a leisurely 9.2-mile paddle from a Hanover public boat launch to Rumford.
The trek is a 19-day, 178-mile journey sponsored by the Androscoggin River Watershed Council. The trek follows the entire course of the Androscoggin River, from its source at Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire-Maine border to its mouth at Merrymeeting Bay in Bath-Brunswick.
Everyone is welcome to join the trek. One can join for a day, several days or for the entire trip. Participation is free, but a $10 donation is recommended to help defray the cost of running the event.
Thursday's high temperatures and high humidity failed to thwart the enthusiasm of 25 kayakers and canoeists from undertaking the relatively flat waters downstream from Hanover.
"I really like this section of the river," said Jessie Seymour Perkins, this year's trek organizer. "It is particularly nice with the number of farms and the silver maples, whose leaves appear silver when breezes flip them over."
Most of Thursday's paddlers were veterans of previous trek segments.
"We started this wanting to see what was going on with the Androscoggin River," said Lillian Wright who was participating with her husband, Dutch.
"We find paddling on the river very enjoyable," she said, "and we love the views and wildlife. I have seen lots of birds, including eagles."
In addition to the the 10 adult trekkers, the group was joined by 11 young campers and four counselors from the Bryant Pond 4-H Camp and Learning Center.
"(The 4-H campers) are part the Androscoggin River Watershed Council's new initiative to get more young people on the trek," Perkins said. "Last year, we got a great group of young people from Auburn to join us on the Auburn to Durham section, and it was a big success. They had a great swim in the river, as well.'
Jeff Stern, the council's biologist, joined the Thursday paddle to give a talk on his brook trout habitat restoration efforts in the area.
"The river has come along way," Stern said. "We're not done yet; there's still a ways to go, but as far as cleanliness, I would give the river a B."
"Many people don't realize it, but the Androscoggin has become not only nationally recognized, but internationally recognized as an angler's heaven," Stern said. "We are seeing people from England that come here for the superb rainbow, brook and brown trout fishing."
Stern said what he liked most about the trek was seeing people getting out on the river and hearing them say, "Wow, I didn't believe it was so nice out here."
From an environmental standpoint, when people appreciate the river, they are more likely to become stewards of the river, Stern said.