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Paddling Downstream from Moody Street

I’ve paddled through the Lakes District of the Charles River many times and approached the Moody Street Dam. I’ve looked over the edge, with the roar of falling water, wondering what is downstream. Ron McAdow labels that section the “Industrial Corridor” in his exploration guide: The Charles River. Michael Tougias doesn’t even bother paddling this stretch of the river in his Exploring the Hidden Charles. Needless to say, I had low expectations. I didn’t tell The Boy because if we want to paddle the entire Charles River, we need to paddle this section.

The books were wrong. This was an enjoyable stretch of the Charles River. You are not going to mistake it for the tranquil sections upstream where you see few signs of human life. You hear traffic noise. You see glimpses of commercial and industrial buildings. You see trash. But you also see the same wildlife and fauna you see upstream.

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The put-in at Landry Park, just downstream from the Moody Street Dam offers several choices for access. There is ample parking on the south side of the river that is easily accessible by a footbridge.

We started out in the fast water flushed downstream by the Moody Street Dam. Boating Barry decided to come along in his new-ish kayak.  The current took us quickly over the shallow water and we needed to make a few rapid adjustments to avoid the bigger obstructions.

The water stayed rapid allowing us to quickly pass under an old railroad bridge and the Newton Street bridge. Then the river slackens as it impounds behind the Bleachery Dam. We exited on the right hand bank and portaged the kayaks about 100 yards around the Bleachery Dam.  It’s located just behind the Shaw’s Supermarket on River Street in Waltham.

Bleachery Dam
Bleachery Dam

The portage path is now part of the Great Blue Heron Trail that follows the Charles River from Newton to the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path. That made it an easy carry.

After getting back in, we came across goose island. It’s a small accretion of sediment, covered with ducks and geese.  On the right bank, Cheesecake Brook falls down a concrete slope after flowing down the middle of Albemarle Street. Then we passed under the spectacular Blue Heron Bridge.

Blue Heron Bridge
Blue Heron Bridge

The river picked up speed again as we got closer to the Bridge Street bridge. This is the site of the old Bemis Dam. It’s breached so you can go over, but there are rapids and obstructions in the river. Just enough to quicken your pulse and make a few quick digs with the paddle.

The river slackens again as it gets impounded behind the Watertown Dam. It’s a quick portage around and an easy reentry. The water is shallow and it’s easy to get caught on rocks. We did. Fortunately, the water is shallow so it was easy to get out and pull the kayak off the rocks. Boating Barry found deeper water closer to the left bank.

watertown dam

As we passed under the Watertown Square bridge, the character of the Charles River changed. We were clearly entering the basin portion of the river. Heavily traveled roads are on both sides of the river, veiled by a veneer of trees and bushes. As we turned a corner, the Prudential Tower was visible in the distance.

the pru and the charles

The Newton Yacht Club is on the right hand bank and the Watertown Yacht Club is on the left. The Charles River is now wide enough and deep enough for the big boats docked here.

Rowers start appearing in this stretch. The first sign is the new building and boathouse for the Community Rowing on Nonantum Road. The second is the Northeastern University’s Henderson Boathouse. A single sculler pulled up slowly along side us. Then pulled hard and left us in his wake.

We pulled off the river at Herter Park. We still have to tackle the Charles River Basin on another day.

The discharge rate at the Moody Street Dam was 211 and the gauge height was 1.68, both about average for July, but low for the Charles on a year round basis.

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