Ditching the Dedham Loop, Paddling in the Long Ditch


I jumped in the red kayak with The Boy and The Girl to charge downstream with Boating Barry. “Charge” may overstate our efforts. The Girl said “race” so we went full speed for a few minutes. Then age and the lack of conditioning got the better of me.

We paddled as lazily as the Charles River as it gets ready to make its big loop through Dedham. We put in the Charles River in a nice spot off South Street in Needham, with plenty of parking and easy access. After a short paddle, we reached the Lyons Bridge and followed the river’s first trip under Route 128. It was particularly messy with the heavy construction equipment and scarred earth. They are working on widening Route 128 from 3 lanes to 4 lanes in this section. That means they need to rebuild the bridges to handle the wider roadway.

Then we were presented with a choice: paddle the whole loop or take a shortcut. In 1654 the residents of Dedham cut a half-mile long ditch across the Cutler Marsh, where the Charles River heads south. This was the Long Ditch. The original purpose was to reduce flooding further south and downstream.

The entrance to the Long Ditch was under a bridge and over a strong rapid.

The Entrance to the Long Ditch
The Entrance to the Long Ditch

Since I had never been down the ditch, I decided to try the shortcut. While the river meanders its way south around through Dedham, the ditch takes a straight path to the northeast.

The banks of the ditch are straight and tall. The marsh grass heads even further up. It was just us and the river, isolated from the world.

Boating Barry in the Long Ditch
Boating Barry in the Long Ditch

At least until we saw the beaver.

There was a beaver lodge in the ditch. It looks like some fallen trees had made a easy starting point for the beaver to build his home.

beaver on the Charles River
Actually, this is the second beaver. We spotted this one by Kendrick Street.

I had read stories that the Long Ditch was scratchy and difficult to navigate. We had no issues. We never scraped the bottom. None of the fallen trees blocked more than a third of the river, so it was easy to navigate around them.

After emerging from the ditch, we re-joined the Charles River by Millennium Park.

The kids were excited to see a big raft of ducks. They were even more surprised when the ducks came charging over to us. Clearly these were Millennium Park ducks looking for a handout and not the wild ducks we had encountered upstream. The kids threw a few of their precious Pringles into the water for the ducks to battle over.

Feeding the Ducks
Feeding the Ducks

After coming around a bend we spotted two big birds on the left bank. A snowy egret and a great blue heron were wading through the shallows. We’ve seen several of the mighty herons on the river, but never its bright white cousin.

The snowy egret was the first to flee from our presence.

Great Blue Heron and a Snowy Egret
Great Blue Heron and a Snowy Egret

We paddled further downstream through the wide swath of the Charles River as it passes through Cutler Park. These 700 acres comprise the largest freshwater marsh on the middle section of the Charles River. It’s much smaller than the marsh in Medfield and I assume it must be smaller than the marsh in the Lakes Section of the Charles River between Waltham and Newton.

It’s a pleasant paddling spot. You’re just a mile from heavy suburban density, but it’s quiet and tranquil on the river.

We spotted a deer in the park. It’s head was just peaking over the tall grass. The deer’s presence was only obvious when it leaped away from us, bounding in the air, with its white tail flagging a warning. We spotted a second beaver near the Kendrick Street bridge. If you add in the multiple turtles, splashing fish, and Canadian Geese, this section of the Charles River was plentiful with local wildlife.

The Nahanton Park dock makes for an easy exit with no mud. There is plentiful parking.

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The discharge rate at the Dover station was 211 and the gauge height was 1.34, both about average for July, but low for the Charles on a year round basis.

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