South Portland assistant principal puts passion for paddling in print

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Outdoor enthusiasts looking for a place to paddle as the temperatures warm will be happy to know there is a now book for that.

Kimberlee Bennett of Westbrook, assistant principal at South Portland High School, and Brunswick’s Sandy Moore teamed up to write “Paddling Southern Maine, Day Trips for Recreational Kayakers, Canoers, and SUPers.” Both are avid paddlers who wanted places to paddle, which began their journey into blogging and book writing.

The 221-page book features 54 one-day paddling adventures, most within one hour of Portland. The book takes readers to lakes, rivers and to protected saltwater.

Bennett, an avid kayaker, began blogging about her trips in 2011 as Maine KayakGirl at http://kayakinginmaine.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile, Moore, who is a former Registered Maine Guide and a former American Canoe Association kayak instructor, began researching and writing a book about five years ago.

“I had been kayaking for years and I knew first hand people didn’t know where to go and that’s how I knew we needed a guide,” Moore said.

During her research, she came across Bennett, who was, in essence, writing an online guide.

After the two women met in Freeport in 2014, Moore asked Bennett if she wanted to collaborate. The two women contracted with Mountaineers Books in 2015, and the book was released in March.

“We balance each other out,” Bennett said.

“It’s nice to see it through different eyes,” Moore said. “Kim is an avid photographer and sees different things.”

The majority of the photographs in the book are Bennett’s, although the cover photo is Moore’s, along with a few inside.

Bennett said there was a big difference between writing a blog and a book, as much more research was needed for the book.

On a recent sunny Saturday morning, with birds singing and flying overhead, the two met for a kayak trip and interview at Great Pond.

While writing the book, the women used a set of criteria – the trips had to be in “more protected waters” with accessible public launch sites in locations that didn’t require portaging. Also, there is no shuttling between the launch and take-out location, and paddlers of any ability could enjoy the trip.

Moore said there are some trips that are more challenging, but they are noted.

The easy-to-use resource contains directions and maps to each location; detailed routes; whether freshwater or saltwater and corresponding tidal information; acreages or distances; depths; information about parking; whether swimming or fishing is allowed; bathroom facilities; and skill levels.

Bennett and Moore detail common wildlife, seasonal changes, and interesting facts and history about the destination. For instance, the Spurwink River excursion describes where readers can view the remains of the Howard H. Middleton 1897 shipwreck.

The book also features a chart with a quick overview of the routes and location to help the reader quickly compare destinations.

There are about 30 pages dedicated to an introduction to the sport of paddling, safety information and environmental concerns.

Moore described the paddling trips in the book as “protected locations,” but cautioned that paddlers should keep safety in mind at all times.

Some of the closer local Southern Maine trips include Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth, Spurwink River, the Eastern Branch of the Nonesuch River, Scarborough Marsh, all in Scarborough; the Presumpscot River in Westbrook; Highland Lake in Falmouth; the Royal River in Yarmouth; Runaround Pond in Durham; the Harraseeket River in Freeport; and Mere Point Bay in Brunswick.

Although Bennett couldn’t pinpoint a favorite time of year to paddle, she did say early morning is her favorite time. It’s the most peaceful part of the day, she said, and the water is sometimes like glass. There is also a better chance of seeing wildlife, but Bennett also points out that evening can be a good time to see animals as well.

Bennett said everything changes according to the season.

“In the spring, the colors aren’t as vibrant but you can see more of the waterways,” Bennett said. The water levels are higher and it’s before cattails, lily pads and other vegetation grows.

When asked for advice on how to get started, Bennett said, “Go for it, but in a smart way.”

She suggested going to a place that will allow people to try out different boats. She also said to start practicing in shallow places and go with someone who knows what they are doing.

Bennett said to take shorter trips at first, start slow and respect your ability level. Bennett said new paddlers often overestimate what they are capable of, although it’s a great family activity – even kids can easily paddle a boat. 

Moore advises people new to the sport to take a class to learn proper paddling techniques, which will help to avoid bad habits, and learn proper safety.  Also, buy the right boat for the type of trips envisioned. 

“Once you invest in the equipment it becomes a free sport,” Bennett said. “Once you get the equipment you can do this for years.”

Bennett goes out once or twice a week, mostly on the weekends, but during the summer she gets out three to five times a week.

“It is my peace and relaxation,” she said. “It grounds me in a way I can’t explain.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Sandy Moore, right, of Brunswick and Kimberlee Bennett, of Westbrook, an assistant principal at South Portland High School, paddle on Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth. The women co-authored “Paddling Southern Maine.”

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