Paddling in the Lakes District of the Charles River (Part II)

Charles River Canoe and Kayak sits in an old MDC police station on Commonwealth Avenue and has a wide variety of paddle craft to rent. Earlier, The Son and I rented a two-person kayak and headed upstream towards the Lower Fall Dam: Paddling in the Lakes District of the Charles River (Part I).

Today, we rented a canoe and headed downstream toward the Moody Street Dam in Waltham. It’s that dam that backs up the Charles River and creates the lake-like feeling in this section of the Charles River.

The slow-moving water creates abundant habitat for waterlife. We spotted many turtles and an impressive great blue heron.

The water sits idle in many coves and inlets, spreading out between the higher ground in Newton, Weston and Waltham. At times, it’s hard to believe that you are only 10 miles from downtown Boston.

One tip for paddling in a canoe with a young kid is to sit in the boat backwards. That way the heavier adult (Does this canoe make me look fat?) is moved toward the center of the canoe, better distributing the weight with a small kid up front. The kid does not need the leg room, so the stern seat (now at the front) should be far enough away from the stern bulkhead for the kid to have legroom.

After trying out the canoe, I going to stick with a kayak for my Charles River journey. The canoe is much harder to paddle with only one person doing the bulk of the work.

It was a pleasant day for paddling so I dug the paddle in and headed downstream, past the Marriott hotel.

This was the site of Norumbega Park, a recreation area and amusement park located in “Auburndale-on-the-Charles.” It was a popular “trolley” park, when the trolleys used to run up Commonwealth Avenue and stop at the nearby Riverside station. Norumbega Park opened in 1897 and closed for good on Labor Day weekend 1963. Hundreds of canoes would flood the Charles River on nice day. Like Revere Beach to the north of Boston, Norumbega Park went into sharp decline when automobiles overtook trolleys for transportation.

Off to the left is Norumbega Tower in Weston. In the late 1800s, Eben Horsford became obsessed with the idea that Vikings had set up settlements in this area. He found what he thought was the remains of a Viking fort and built the tower to commemorate the spot.

Further downstream we found a site where the landowners had placed various animal statutes along the river. A life-sized bison and Native American say hello. Further along the riverbank, we discovered his enormous turtle and alligator nestled in the low branches overhanging the slow moving river.

Off to the right, we went past The Cove Playground, taking in the opposite view we are used to having from the swings.

Eventually, you run into the industrial history of the Charles River. The old Waltham Watch factory towers above you on the right-hand bank. The multiple buildings of the industrial complex sit close to the river bank. I assume the factory took advantage of the river to help power its production and used the flow to help clean up after the manufacturing process.

The pilings in the water next to the Prospect Street Bridge are from the Nuttings-on-the-Charles Dance Hall, a popular jazz-era ballroom.

The hall burned down in 1961.

Then we came to the Moody Street Dam.

Paddling in the Lakes District of the Charles River (Part I)

I finally convinced The Boy to get a paddle in his hands. We rented a double kayak from Charles River Canoe & Kayak on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton and set off to explore the Charles River.

It was beautiful day on the Charles. The trees were showing a few wisps of the upcoming colors of fall.

The Lakes District is formed by Moody Street Dam in Waltham. It impedes the flow of the Charles, flooding the low lying areas to create a power supply for the mill that used to operate at the base of the dam. The power need for the dam has long passed, but the dam stays in place, helping to control downriver flooding.

But rather than heading downstream into the Lakes District, we headed upstream to the dam at Newton Lower Falls. I figured it was time to start linking together some of my trips on Charles River.

Heading upstream from Charles River Canoe & Kayak gets you zig-zagg under the highway bridges of I-90 and I-95 and a railroad crossing. Other those massive intrusions, it’s a nice stretch of river.

Until you get to the old Grossman’s site in Wellesley. That site had sat vacant for years. Now they are finally re-developing the site. Unfortunately, they decided to cut down nearly all of the trees, bushes, and plants on the riverbank that abuts the site. The de-nuded slope is a disaster.

It was also close to our turn-around point. The water level was low and we scraped the bottom in a few places, finally forcing us to turn before we could see the upstream dam.

Along the way we got buzzed by a great blue heron. We payed visits to the dozens of turtles sunning themselves on the riverbank.

The Boy did very little paddling, but said he had a great time. Most importantly, he said he wanted to go again.
The yellow line marks our journey.