This park and accompanying trail systems are located at the Cathance River's head of tide, which is defined as the furthest upstream that the tide impacts the river. Here you will find a 15-foot waterfall that separates the tidal from the freshwater portions of the river. The Cathance River is one of six rivers that flow into Merrymeeting Bay. This bay, combined with the Lower Kennebec River make up the Kennebec Estuary, which is the second largest estuary on the East Coast.
Freshwater tidal marshes are uncommon, and are therefore home to rare plant species. If you're more interested in things that move, the Cathance supports thousands of fish spawning (alewife and sturgeon), ducks, geese and wading birds during spring and fall migrations. It is also a great viewing spot for eagle, osprey, and heron.
The Brunswick Topsham Land Trust maintains the trails here, which snake along the river and through its upland forests. The Cathance River Trail leads to a 60-foot aluminum Clay Brook pedestrian bridge...which we never made it to, but hopefully you will? Across the bridge, there are an additional five miles of trails to explore at the Cathance River Preserve.
History time: The Cathance River was used by the Abenaki, who gave the river it's name. "Kathanis" in the Abenaki language meant "bent" or "crooked". This river provided transportation, food and a location for settlements. It also served as a carrying place for Abenaki to portage their canoes.
As is too often the case, European settlers led to conflict in this area. Eventually, a group of Boston business investors had acquired the milling power rights to the waterfall and 1,100 acres of surrounding forest to establish a saw mill. In the 1860's, the site's hydropower found a new use: processing feldspar, which was ground into a fine dust and made into pottery, plumbing fixtures, dinnerware and other products. The feldspar mill was powered by a waterwheel set into a dam at the falls. The mined ore was placed in a ball mill (shown below), which tossed the small stones in to a fine powder. The mill operated until the late 1940's .
We left a new design for you on this old ball mill. No tricky directions or clues to find this one...it's pretty obvious. Sometimes we like to throw you a bone.
If there's any adventure left in you after these trails, check out the Matthew Townsend Parker Memorial Skatepark at 6 Main Street in Bowdainham (next to the Mailly Waterfront Park). This sweet little park is only a 9 minute drive from the Head of Tide Park. Why not pack some good snacks and a skateboard or scooter while you're at it? This could be an entire day of fun outdoors. Just the way we like it.