June has been a very wet month and the rain of a few days ago has pushed the Charles River into flood stage. I thought it would be a good day to see how the river looks in flood stage. This section of the river also is part of the flood control measures for the river.
We put in at Forest Road in Millis. Literally at Forest Road. The parking lot and launch area was underwater and we launched the big red kayak from the side of Forest Road. We already had our first taste of the floodwaters and had not even started paddling.
For those of you who are only familiar with the Charles River Basin between Cambridge and Boston, this upper stretch of the Charles River is nothing like the Basin.
This section of the Charles is part of the Natural Valley Storage Project. In 1974 Congress authorized the “Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area,” allowing for the acquisition and permanent protection of 17 scattered wetlands in the middle and upper watershed. The final acquisition totaled 8,103 acres, with 3,221 acres of land acquired in fee and 4,882 acres in flood easement.
These wetlands form a natural reservoir. They soak up the floodwaters and allow the water level to spread over a wide area. Otherwise the heavy flow of water would rush downstream and flood the developed areas along the river, including Boston itself.
Area F is the largest area of the Natural Valley Storage Area and lies in Millis, Medfield, Norfolk and Sherborn.
With all of the rain, Area F would be put to it’s test of holding flood waters.
The Charles River meanders quite a bit in this section, swishing back and forth through the marshy wetlands. With the high water, we were able to cut across some of the meanderings as the water flowed right over some of the marsh.
On one bank was Millis, on the other Medfield. This area attracted the first settlers of Medfield. The natural hay from these meadows along the river was valuable fodder for their livestock.
At one stretch, the left-hand bank in Millis is owned by a hunting club. We could hear some shotgun blasts echoing across the valley.
I had a bit of concern about our ability to fit under the Route 109 bridge. It’s smallish opening helps hold back some of the water in Area F, pushing it out into the meadows. But we were able to make it under with reasonable clearance.
The next obstacle was the railroad bridge just downstream of the West Street Bridge between Medfield and Millis. Originally, this section of Millis was part of Medfield. Since the town’s Puritans lived on both sides of the river, they needed a bridge to get back and forth to the weekly meeting. The original bridge was constructed in 1653. During King Philip’s War, the Native Americans burned the original bridge in 1676.
The trestle offered narrow openings and the bloated river was flowing quickly through. A few quick, sharp strokes got the kayak in position, through, and out the other side.
As we paddled further downstream, the floodwaters spread far across the marshy valley. I was hoping to be able to paddle up Bogastow Brook. This is the largest tributary of the Charles River. With the wide expanse of the floodwaters it was often hard to find the path of the river as it flowed over marshes, bushes and trees that normally cut a path for the flow. This is Area G of the Natural Valley Storage Area.
I thought I might not be able to find the brook. Eventually I saw a bigger opening and an obvious flow of additional water. It was a short, twisted path upstream to South End Pond. I assume this stretch is normally a bit scratchy, but the floodwaters made it easy to get upstream.
After making it to the pond, we headed back to the Charles, downstream to the Route 27 bridge and the takeout.
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