From the campground, walk down to the closed gate that leads to the dam and powerhouse, but turn left between two brown posts just before that, walk through the raft storage area and stop at the top of the stairs.
Note the four penstocks, two fifteen-foot-diameter ones, one ten-foot, and one four-foot. The four-foot is what gets used at minimum flow to drive a smallish turbine. I suspect it is part of the "dark start" portion of the power plant, since the gates for it might be small enough to be opened and closed manually. You can see the spillway gates and the top of the powerhouse and across the way, the start of the log chute (see below).
You can go down a long flight of steps (159 by my count) to the river's edge where they launch the rafts. The staircase:
has rails. The rafts slide down those while the rafters walk down the sides holding onto them.
At the bottom:
there's this warning:
In fact, there are warnings like this all along the river, including one I saw 30 miles downstream that warned small boaters of "tsunamis" that could capsize them from releases way up here.
Across the river there is a concrete log chute from the top of the dam to the bottom:
It's five feet wide at the top and six at the bottom (better than the other way around, eh?). The last log drive down the Kennebec was in 1976 (the dam was built in 1954).
There were rafters taking off right as I got there. Interestingly enough, this bunch was all instructor trainees. I chatted with the head instructor, who told me several had already dropped out, saying, "They didn't realize what they'd gotten themselves into! Herding a raft-full of people who capsized in a class 4 rapid to safety ain't easy!"
He also told me the water was 41 degrees F.
The board at the checkin station showed that the dam was letting out 7900 cubit feet of water per second. By my calculations, that's roughly an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three seconds!
I have got
to do this one of these days.
I'll add more to the story later.