Penobscot River Data:
Length: 240 miles (West Branch to Bucksport)
Drainage area: 8,570 square miles
Discharge at mouth: 10.1 billion gallons/day (avg.)Rivers, Lakes, and Streams in the Penobscot Watershed:
Big Stream Brook
Cold Stream Pond
Great Works Stream
Little Lake Brook
Little Nesowandnehunk Stream
Sam Ayers Stream
|Penobscot WatershedThe Penobscot River was named by native peoples, who have occupied the Penobscot Valley for well over 5,000 years. The word means “waters of descending ledge.”
New England’s second largest river system, the Penobscot drains an area of 8,570 square miles. Its West Branch rises near Penobscot Lake on the Maine/Quebec border; the East Branch at East Branch Pond near the headwaters of the Allagash River. The main stem empties into Penobscot Bay near the town of Bucksport.
Ripogenus Gorge – West Branch of the Penobscot
The river is tidal from below the base of the Veazie Dam site to its mouth near Bucksport (approx. 25 miles) and is brackish to the town of Hampden. The river’s total fall from Penobscot Lake on the South Branch is 1,602 feet.
During the nineteenth century, the Penobscot became the primary means of transporting logs out of the North Woods to Bangor–then called the “timber capital of the world” (see photos and read more about the log drives).
The river’s West Branch from Ripogenus Dam to the Pemadumcook Lakes is famous for its numerous falls and rapids which provide outstanding whitewater rafting and angling for wild landlocked Atlantic salmon.
Like all of New England’s major rivers, the Penobscot has been grossly polluted with untreated industrial and municipal waste for most of the 20th century. Water quality on the main-stem and lower tributaries has improved markedly since the 1970s.
Terrain ranges from steep mountains including Maine’s highest, Mt.Katahdin, rolling hills and extensive bogs, marshes and wooded swamps.
Most of the watershed is forested, intensively harvested for pulp and saw logs and sparsely settled. The only major urban area in the watershed is the riverfront cities of Bangor and Brewer.
A major agricultural area (dairy and potato farming) is concentrated in the Kenduskeag Stream watershed west of Bangor with smaller areas located in intervales of the lower Piscataquis River. Paper mills are located on West Branch at Millinocket and East Millinocket, and on the main-stem at Lincoln, Old Town, Brewer and Bucksport.
The Penobscot is home to many fish, including native brook trout, landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, white perch and chain pickerel are prevalent resident species. Sea-run species include Atlantic salmon, alewives, American shad, American eel, sea lamprey, striped bass, tomcod, rainbow smelt and occasional Atlantic sturgeon.
Most sea-run species except smelt and eels are found in numbers far below historic levels because of non-existent or inadequate fish passage facilities on main-stem and tributaries, past pollution and loss of habitat due to dam construction.
The Penobscot is best known for its large historic salmon run (50,000 or more adults) and its much smaller contemporary run, which is the largest Atlantic salmon run remaining in the United States (1,000-4,000 adults in recent decades).
Local Organizations – Penobscot Watersheds