Discovering the Headwaters of the Charles River

When we decided to paddle the entire length of the Charles River, one persistent question was “where does it start?”

Our paddling adventure only partially answered that question. We started where we could float the kayak and paddle downstream. That left the unnavigable stretches of the Charles River out of our scope. But our adventure would not be complete without putting boots on the ground to find the headwaters and see where the Charles River begins.

The Charles River starts at Echo Lake in Hopkinton. The lake was originally a swamp, but a dam impounds the water between high rocky ground. It’s now part of the Milford Water supply.

Echo Lake

There are several streams that run into Echo Lake, but none have been deemed worthy enough to carry the title of Charles River. We hiked around a portion of Echo Lake, but never made it to the dam or the trickle of water that starts the official beginning of the Charles River. Given the dry weather, we may have passed right over it and not noticed.

Echo Lake looks like it would be a nice place to paddle. However, it is drinking water for MIlford so paddling is not allowed.

From Echo Lake the Charles River water trickles south. You can easily see the channel along Milford’s Upper Charles River Trail. This rail-to-trail project runs to the Charles River and runs parallel for a short stretch. There was little water to see. Most people would not notice that it was the Charles River unless they looked a the map. That little puddle was the only water we saw in the channel.

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We went to further point on the trail and found another impoundment at Wildcat Pond. It’s hard to envision that this wet ditch is start of the mighty Charles River.

Charles river as it leaves Wildcat Pond

The water quality was poor and the was no flow. The Charles River was just a dirty puddle at this point in its run to Boston Harbor. Wildcat pond at the source carried a sign that it was part of the Milford water supply and off limits to paddling. It would not have been worth the effort to carry the Kayak out to this dirty little pond anyhow.

Our next glimpse of the Charles River was Milford Pond, just North of Milford town center. The pond is formed by the Hayward Field Dam. The water quality is very poor. It’s an unnatural shade of brown and green, with a sheen of petroleum.

hayward Field Dam

The quality of the water did not improve at our next glimpse of the river at Central Street in Milford. The channel splits in two, with most of flow directed under the Archer Rubber Plant. A bypass heads to the left into a tunnel.

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That is the last we saw of the river until our put-in at Howard Street in Milford. The dingy grey water at our start is now no longer a surprise.

The water was not much to see and certainly nothing that could be paddled.

Our Kayak Journey Down the Entire Charles River

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Early in the summer, I picked up a new double kayak. My first thought was to put in by the Newton Marriott with The Boy and explore that section of the Charles River together. Then my brain jumped ahead and thought about how much of the Charles River we could paddle together.

The plan was hatched.

Over the summer we paddled about 60 miles of the Charles River over the course of 10 days. Most days were about three to four hours on the river. (The big exception was the first leg in Milford which took significantly longer to overcome the shallow water and obstructions.) The kayak was big enough, and the kids small enough, that I could take The Boy and The Girl down the river. I left her behind on some sections of the river that would be tricky with portages or rapids.

From Milford, we passed through Bellingham, Medway, Franklin, Millis, Medfield, Dover, Sherborn, Natick, Wellesley, Needham, Dedham, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston.

See the map below and more about each leg of the journey.

Charles River Journey
Charles River Journey

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Doug made the journey possible. She trucked me and the kids to the put ins and picked us up at the end of the segment.

The segments in river order:

Starting in Milford, through Box Pond and the Bellingham Meadows

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Our starting point was in Milford, outside 495. The Charles River’s headwaters start at Echo Lake in Hopkinton. However, the first 20 miles are not navigable in any meaningful way. Our Milford starting point seems to be about as far upstream as you can start. Even at that point was going was difficult. We ended at the Caryville Dam in Bellingham. More…

Medway and its Dams and Paddling from Populatic Pond

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This section of the river was memorable for its obstructions. The obstructions started before we could even get in the river. The old abandoned factory downstream from the Caryville Dam had fenced off the property, leaving the put in on the other side. After finally getting into the river we encountered numerous beaver dams and two man-made dams. More … and More….

Forest Road in Millis, Though Area F, to Route 27 in Medfield

Doug The Boy The Girl and Our Red Kayak

This was a great stretch of river. It was especially notable because we were paddling just after the rainy days of June, leaving the river wide and bloated. More…

Route 27 Through Rocky Narrows and Broadmoor To Natick

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This is one of the prettiest sections of the Charles River and about as back-to-nature as you can get inside 128. Most of the riverbanks in this section are subject to some type of protection or part of a park. More….

Natick Dam Through Elm Bank and Charles River Village to Needham

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In this section, surburbia intrudes. Houses back right up to the river so at times you feel like you are paddling in someone’s backyard. But it is a nice paddle. More…

Needham, through the Dedham Loop, to Newton

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We took a shortcut. The Long Ditch slices off a loop as the river wanders through Dedham. We have been paddled the outside of the loop before and will do it again. The Charles River Canoe and Kayak center at Nahanton Park will rent a boat to you and truck you upstream to paddle this section. More…

Paddling with the Kids in Hemlock Gorge

128 Road Signs in the Distance

This is an interesting section to paddle, but it is chopped up with some big portages. More…

Newton Lower Falls, Through the Lakes District, to the Moody Street Dam in Waltham

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This section is the mostly highly used section of the river, other than the basin. Credit the river traffic to the popular Charles River Canoe and Kayak location on Commonwealth Ave next to the Newton Marriott. More…

From Moody Street in Waltham to Brighton

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This is an industrial section of the river. One of the first big industrial factories sits at the starting point, harnessing the power of the Charles River.  More…

The Last Stretch, from Brighton to the Ocean

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This section of the Charles River is unlike the rest of the river. Maybe people wonder where the river starts because they expect to see this broad plain of water up stream. In the rest of the river you can paddle from riverbank to riverbank with just a few strokes, or less. More…

After all of that, the Charles River ends at the dam behind the Boston Garden.

Charles River Dam

We decided to go a bit further and went through the locks into Boston Harbor. Clearly, the kayak was not made for ocean waves, but we managed to go past the U.S.S. Constitution and the Boston waterfront to Fort Point Channel. There was new kayak/canoe dock paid for by P&G Gillette.
Fort Point Channel dock

And so our journey down the Charles River has ended. I’m sure we will be back paddling through some of those sections. It’s a great river to enjoy. However, there are some sections that I’m unlikely to paddle again.

Then, there are lots of other rivers nearby. I wonder what we will paddle next summer……

 

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charles river mcadowIf you are interested in exploring the Charles River, I highly recommend a book by Ron McAdow: The Charles River: Exploring Nature and History on Foot and by Canoe.  It provides a comprehensive description of the entire river. It highlights the best places to access the river and details the portage routes. McAdow describes the physical environment bordering the river as it passes through town after town. There are snippets of history as your pass meaningful places on the river, or places that were meaningful at one time or another. McAdow dives deep into the flora and fauna you are likely to pass while paddling.

Gently Paddling Through the Lakes District of the Charles River

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The Lakes District of the Charles River 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.

The dam was our end point. We started several miles upstream at Newton Lower Falls.

Just downstream from Newton Lower Falls
Just downstream from Newton Lower Falls

After the recent rain, the river was perky, running fast and deep. The river gage in Waltham has risen a half foot to 1.6 feet.

There is a parking lot just off Washington Street that is empty on the weekends. It offers a few easy spots to slide into the Charles. The property owner discourages parking in the lot for this access during the week.

It’s a gentle peaceful stretch of the river. The quiet of the river gets punctuated by the whoosh-whack of golfers patrolling the Leo J. Martin Golf Course that lines both riverbanks.

After the golf course there is the series of massive intrusions. First, the Charles River passes under I-95 for the third and final time, making its run to Boston Harbor.

Charles River passing under I-95
Charles River passing under I-95

Then there is Recreation Road, a railroad bridge, a pedestrian bridge, a Mass Pike off ramp, the Mass Pike and Commonwealth Avenue.

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After the bridges you run into river traffic at Charles River Canoe & Kayak. It sits in an old MDC police station on Commonwealth Avenue and has a wide variety of paddle craft to rent. 

In the Lakes section 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 12 miles from downtown Boston.

Charles River Canoe & Kayak
Charles River Canoe & Kayak

CRCK sits next to 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.

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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 Waltham Watch Factory
The Waltham Watch Factory

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 Bridge and the dam barricades the river just after the bridge.

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We arrived at Moody Street at lunch time. Margarita’s has an outdoor dining area on the right bank of the river. This was an excellent stop for lunch.

From the Beginning: Paddling Through Box Pond and the Bellingham Meadows

Charles River

When I tell someone that The Boy and I are paddling the length of the Charles River, the first response is usually: “Where does it begin?”

Everyone in Boston is familiar with the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. Many have paddled on the river at the Charles River Canoe & Kayak location in Newton as the river comes back under Route 128 for the third time.

It’s no surprise that the river gets smaller and smaller as you travel further upstream. Eventually, there will not be enough water flow to paddle. The Boy and I were not looking for the source of the Charles River. We were looking for the point where you can start paddling.

According to Ron McAdow in his guide, The Charles River, Exploring Nature and History on Foot and by Canoe, “[t]hose wishing to canoe the whole Charles River can begin at Howard Street [in Milford].”

And so we did.

We also ignored McAdow’s later warning:

“Although a run of this section is possible, it should be undertaken only be determined and experienced canoeists. The convenient outings lie farther downstream.”

That is an understatement.

We ignored the warning and put in at Howard Road in Milford, next to railroad tracks. Boating Barry was willing to take on the adventure and joined us. The river water looked dingy, like used dishwater. Despite a bit of rain earlier in the week, the river was low. The river gage at Medway was pegged at 1.18 feet.  That’s not a lot of room to float a kayak.

As expected, we soon had to jump out of the kayak and drag the boats downstream. Even worse we soon encountered downed trees, fallen branches, and other obstructions. Even when the river bottom was deep enough to paddle, it was tough to get downstream.

After clearing an obstacle, we paddled around the corner to see Boating Barry photographing our first encounter with wildlife.

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Maybe, not so wild. The herd of cows clearly was not used to seeing people paddling on the river.  They stared at us with confused curiosity.

Outflow from the Milford Wastewater Plant

Soon we encountered a big milestone: the Milford wastewater treatment plant. Its outflow goes straight into the Charles River. McAdow’s guide stated that the plant’s outflow greatly increased the river’s flow. But it said nothing about water quality. We did not know what to expect. I feared the river would become fetid.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the water improve. The water coming out of the plant was clearer than the water upstream. We could see the river bottom. The dingy, gray dishwater was replaced with crystal clear water. There was sharp line as the dingy upstream water collided with the clearer water cascading down from the plant.

I doubt the water was drinkable. I’m not even sure it was fit for swimming. Hopefully, it was clean enough for walking, because we still had lots of of walking ahead.

And climbing. The river continued to be littered with obstructions to paddling downstream. A few fallen trees looked like the work of beavers. We saw at least one gnawed trunk that would soon be a fallen tree. However, most of the obstructions looked like trees that stretched too far into the sunny part of the river and lost the strength to stay upright. One fallen branch usually grabbed more debris flowing downstream to make a continually growing obstacle.

Before we got to the Hartford Avenue bridge we encountered the most difficult obstacle of the day: a reed-filled swamp.

The Swamp
The Swamp

The reeds were so tall that we could not see anything except the tops of the trees at the edge of the river. The reeds were so thick that it was nearly impossible to paddle in most places. The reeds were solid enough that they impeded forward progress. I tried to get out and push, but the bottom was too deep and too soft for me to push.

We were stuck.

But we couldn’t quit. There was nowhere to go. The car was far upstream and the truck was miles downstream. Onward. We had no choice.

It was a slow pace, but we finally reached the Hartford Avenue bridge and the end of the reeds. It was back to paddling, walking, and bushwhacking.

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Bushwacking downstream

Eventually, the river began to widen as we entered Box Pond. The pond’s surface was thick with plant growth. Unlike the reeds, it was soft and pliable. We could get through it.

The pond did offer a surprise. I noticed a mound of mud that looked odd to me. it appeared even more odd when I noticed it had a head.

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The brave snapping turtle

We paddled closer and the turtle dropped his (her?) head under water. We got closer. He popped his head up, stared at us, and put it back under. This continued. It reminded me of a young child saying you can’t see him because his eyes are closed.

The most difficult part of paddling through Box Pond was finding the outflow. There was a dam somewhere. Box Pond is actually an impoundment of the Charles River. I kept listening for the telltale sounds of a waterfall, but couldn’t hear it. I noticed a small bridge. This turned out to be the top of the Box Pond Dam.

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The Box Pond Dam

Downstream from the dam, the water quality improved again. I assume thick plants in the pond were filtering the river and the dam was holding back sediments. The water was clear, but shallow.

Shortly we reached the Bellingham Meadows and the paddling became much more enjoyable. This is a nice stretch of the river.

The tough part is maneuverability.  The Charles River makes tight turns, zig-zagging back and forth as slowly cuts its way through the meadows. I had a hard time getting around many of the corners. In some cases, I would have to come to stop and pull a hard sweep to get the nose around. Other times we went careening into the riverbank as I failed to get the kayak going in the new direction. The 14-foot double kayak is about as big as you want to take through the meadows.

Paddling through Bellingham Meadows
Paddling through Bellingham Meadows

The Bellingham Meadows are part of the Natural Valley Storage Project. The Army Corps of Engineers uses strategic areas of wetlands along the Charles River to slow the progress of flood waters headed to Boston. Instead of dams and levies, the Army Corp recognized the ability of wetlands to hold back flood waters.

For those of you who have only seen the Charles River lying between Cambridge and Boston, you would not recognize the river in the Bellingham Meadows. At times the river was as narrow as the length of paddle. the Charles River is more narrow and turns much more than the similar storage area between Millis and Medfield.

The biggest obstruction in the meadows is the I-495 bridge that cuts through it.

I-495 bridge
I-495 bridge

You can in the picture see that the bridge is relatively low. During high water it’s a tight squeeze. During really high water, you can’t fit through.

The tunnel is intentionally low as part of the Natural Valley Storage Project flood control. The I-495 bridge acts as a culvert restricting the flow of the river. During times of high water, it acts as a dam limiting the flow of water downstream and backing the water into the Bellingham Meadows.

Downstream from the I-495 bridge the Bellingham Meadows gradually give way to uplands. Eventually the river thickens as it reaches the North Bellingham Dam impoundment. Downstream from the dam, the river is low, swift and rocky. There is a long portage to get around the dam and downstream past the rocks and a large blockage.

The section of the river downstream from the North Bellingham Dam was once again narrow and over grown. It was full of debris and fallen branches.

After nearly eight hours we were happy to finally come to the small pond at the Caryville Dam.

Caryville Dam

Other than the Bellingham Meadows, it is terrible section of the river to paddle. We are glad that we can say that we paddled it. We’re even more glad that we won’t be paddling it again.

The GPS tracker puts the route at 12 miles. But it took 7:45 to go from end to end. That is a much, much, much longer time than we expected to be on the river.

The question I have is whether this stretch of the Charles River would have been better if the water level was higher. I’m not sure. Certainly, there would be less walking in the calm sections. Some of the rapids would be passable. The swamp of reeds would probably be more easily traversed. But while the water level would push up the the boat away from the river bottom, it would also push your head up into the obstructions. We were able to pass under lots of trees and plant growth that hang over the river looking for free space to grow. If the river were higher, we would more likely get stuck in that plant growth.

A little more water would make this section better, but high water might make it harder to paddle through. I suppose I could come back when the water is higher. I’d likely have better things to do.

map milford and bellinghm

Ditching the Dedham Loop, Paddling in the Long Ditch

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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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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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Paddling Through Elm Bank and Charles River Village

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We started our kayaking trek on a glorious Fourth of July day with bright sunshine, high humidity, and average river levels. The starting point was the end point for our paddling trip through Rocky Narrows and Broadmoor: the South Natick Dam.

A gentle push got us going in the moderate flow over the scratchy, rock-strewn run just after the dam. A little way downstream, we came across the beautiful Cheney Bridge spanning the river.

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The Cheney bridge provides access to Elm Bank: 182 acres of woodlands, fields, and an old estate property surrounded on three sides by the Charles River. Elm Bank was given its name in 1740, when Colonel John Jones acquired the land and planted elms along the banks of the Charles River. The site was eventually sold in 1874 to Benjamin Pierce Cheney. The Olmsted Brothers, were hired to design and improve the gardens.  The entire site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and leased to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

There is a marshy area on the left where Waban Brook enters the Charles River. If you peek over your shoulder as you pass, you can catch a glimpse of the Waban Arches. If the water is high enough you can paddle up Waban Brook to the structure. It was and we did.

Waban Arches
Waban Arches

The Waban Arches support the Sudbury Aqueduct which carried water from a reservoir in Framingham to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston. The kids thought it looked like Echo Bridge in Newton. It does. That’s because Echo Bridge is another part of the Sudbury Aquaduct.

The Bays Region Stretches three miles to the Cochrane Dam. It’s pocked with backwaters that lead back up the course of the river, but are abandoned channels. They were formed as the river changed course as it flooded and re-formed in the flat-bottomed valley between Needham and Dover.

The river is broad and flat through this section, meandering back and forth. The lazy river is further slowed by the impoundment from the Cochrane Dam downstream.

A key landmark is the South Street Bridge.

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Just beyond this bridge is the Cochrane Dam. It can sneak up on you if you are not paying attention. Beyond its precipice is a significant drop onto boulder strewn waters.

The place was first dammed in 1675 and used to power Fisher’s gristmill. The dam site evolved over the years and was used to power a paper mill in 1796. There is a raceway on the left side that was used for power. Today, there is no industry here. You can find several foundations and walls on both sides.

There is a take-out on the left just beyond the bridge. But it is a steep climb. Then it’s a long portage over the bridge and down Mill Street to a launch site. There is a better takeout on Fisher Street before the bridge. But you are left with a much longer portage.

Downstream from the dam is some swiftwater. It’s rocky and can be scratchy in low water. We were able to bounce through the rapids.

Then downstream is what looks like an old low dam. If you look off to the right bank you can see a water level gauge. This is the USGS guaging station in Dover. (The water level was at 1.5 feet.) The station measures both the water level height and the discharge in cubic feet per second.

Eventually, the river returns to the slow pace and meandering that you expect from the Charles River. We did not expect to see two big snapping turtles.

snapping turtles on the Charles River

You can see snapping turtles occasionally on the river. But I’ve never seen two together. I’ve definitely not seen two turtles engage in what we saw next.

turtle wrestling

We could not tell if it was two males battling for territory as they wrestled with each other. Or if it was a male and female that were …. um…. making baby turtles.

There is a good exit just after the Dedham Avenue bridge, off South Street in Needham. But we missed it and ended up at the Lyons Bridge, just before the I-95 bridges. It’s a terrible place to exit the river. Construction debris and mud line the river banks, held back by a dam of hay bales. You need to trudge through that sticky, gloopy mess to get up to road.

Paddling from Populatic Pond

Paddling Populatic Pond

After the difficult kayaking through Medway, the open expanse of Populatic Pond was a welcome relief. It gave us the opportunity to drift lazily in the breeze and fill our bellies with snacks.

The downstream exit from the pond was just a few hundred yards along the North coast. The Charles River then winds wide through a marsh, actually an extension of the pond itself. The river languishes peacefully with just a gentle current to urge us downstream.

Then there is a sharp turn as we passed under the Myrtle Street bridge. In our high water, there was a set of rapids ahead, giving us a fun, quick ride downstream. But towards a treacherous island in the center over the river. A few quick strokes pushed us around the obstacle. There was a temporary slack as we passed under the power lines, then another big push as the river squeezed through the abandoned railroad abutments of the Medway Branch Railroad bridge.

We hit calm water for a bit more, then we saw an old house straight ahead on the left bank of the river, as the river takes a sharp turn right.

Around the bend is the Pleasant Street bridge. And a nasty set of rapids. According to Ron McAdow’s guide to The Charles River,  it’s best to stay on the left during high water. At medium water, the right side is better. And in low water you may need to portage over the obstacles.

Since we had high water, we went left. First we hit an off camber drop that spun us right, I dug in hard to turn us straight downstream and to skitter through the bumps and troughs of water.

But I missed one near the end and we high-centered on top of a rock with the river rushing past us. Fortunately, it only took me a hop up and down out of my seat to catch some water under the boat to free us.

Pleasant Street Bridge
Pleasant Street Bridge

We quickly reached the Route 115 bridge, then the riverbanks became wild once again. At least relatively wild. The right bank is plastered with warnings that it is used as shooting reserve and not to trespass. The left bank is largely undeveloped and eventually yields to the Cedariver, a Trustees of the Reservation property.

You end up with about 1.5 miles of calm, scenic river to paddle.

The last obstacle is the Forest Road bridge.

Forest Road Bridge
Forest Road Bridge

The bridge sits low over the river. We were riding high water and there was only about a foot and a half of clearance. We were not sure if the bow of the kayak would fit under. Even if it did, we were even less sure that the two of us and the kayak would fit.

There was only one way to find out.

Under the Forest Road Bridge
Under the Forest Road Bridge

It was snug. We didn’t have room to paddle, but we could reach up and push ourselves using the underside of the bridge.

Just past the bridge is a small parking lot that is often under water. The water level had dropped about foot since we were here last weekend paddling through Area F, but the lot was still deep under water.

populatic pond

Paddling Though Area F with the Kids

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.

dover flood level

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.

Doug The Boy The Girl and Our Red Kayak

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.

natural valley storage area

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.

DSC_0015
Only boats would be parking here today.

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.

Route 109 Bridge
Route 109 Bridge

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.

Railroad bridge at West Street
Railroad bridge at West Street

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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Striking a pose at the put in.


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Paddling with the Kids in Hemlock Gorge

The Hemlock Gorge section of the Charles River is the beginning of the more urban section of Charles River, passing houses, factories and highways, than the upper stretches of the river.

I launched the new red double kayak from Nahanton Park in Newton. The Boy was in the front seat and The Girl was in a jump seat plopped between my feet.

Nahanton Park is one of the newer locations of Charles River Canoe and Kayak. It is a less visible location than it’s main location next to the Marriott, but it’s a much nicer stretch of the river. There is plenty of parking and a dock at the park which makes the launch very easy.

The Needham radio and television towers are visible in the distance once you enter this section of the river. There are significant industrial buildings along the river. If you remember your history of the industrial revolution in the northeast, this means there are dams along the river. There are three portages ahead, sure to be a challenge in the big new kayak.

There is a modern railroad bridge abutting older stone abutments which mark the location of an older bridge.  This bridge was for the Charles River branch of the Boston and Worcester Railroad. Built in 1850, this rail line was built to bring stone and gravel from Needham to fill Boston’s Back Bay. During its peak, forty car trains of fill ran every 45 minutes.

The Elliot Street Bridge is made of three stone arches and appears just before the Silk Mill Dam. There are new signs warning of the approaching dam. You can see the river disappear and hear an increasing roar as you pass under the bridge.

kayak 004

There is a good spot to take the kayak out of the river and start the portage. It was fairly long walk of about 300 yards through Hemlock Gorge Reservation, leading down into Hemlock Gorge between Newton’s Upper Falls and the Echo Bridge. With the weight of the new kayak on my back, I realized I needed to get some wheels for the portages.

Halfway down the portage, there is a great spot atop the rock of the gorge. The old mill building is across the river and you can feel the force of the water poring over the dam.

The fall of water at Hemlock Gorge was an attractive power supply for industry. In 1688 John Clark built a sawmill. His sons expanded by adding a fulling mill and a grist mill. In 1788 Simon Elliot bought part of the site and put in a snuff mill.  In 1824 a cotton mill was added, which was later converted to a silk mill. The dam is often called the Silk Mill Dam because of this long running use of the dam.

Silk Mill Dam in Hemlock Gorge
Silk Mill Dam in Hemlock Gorge

Just downstream of the Silk Mill Dam is Echo Bridge. It is famous for the wonderful echoes that can resonate back and forth between the arches. Yes, we all hollered out as we went under. The echo was very impressive.

Echo Bridge
Echo Bridge

Echo Bridge carries the Sudbury Aqueduct. In 1878, the mainstream of the Sudbury River was diverted via the Sudbury Aqueduct to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to supply water for the City of Boston. The bridge was built in 1876, spanning 130 feet across the Charles River.

Horseshoe Dam
Horseshoe Dam

Next on the river was the Circular Dam or Horseshoe Dam. The dam was not marked and it was harder to hear because it was right next to the overpass for Route 9.

This is also the site of a portage under Route 9 on the Ellis Street underpass, down to Turtle Island. A millrace was put in place here in 1782 for a sawmill. In 1792 Newton Iron Works took over and rolled iron bars for 50 years. The millrace is to the right of the dam and is the landing spot for the portage. There is a new spillway put in place that makes the bank a bit more steep and the exit a bit harder.

128 Road Signs in the Distance
128 Road Signs in the Distance

The Charles then follows Route 128/ Interstate 95 for a few miles. The road signs on Route 128 are visible from the river. The right bank of the river in this section follows Quinobequin Road in Newton. The left bank has relatively new sound barriers along 128 that greatly reduce the traffic noise. Vegetation has grown along the walls, but they still look massive and tower above the river.

After passing under Route 128, we passed under the Cochituate Aqueduct crossing the river and under 128 on a three-arched bridge. The Cochituate Aqueduct was built in 1848 to carry water from Lake Cochituate in Framingham to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. It serves a similar purpose to the Sudbury Aqueduct that runs through Echo Bridge.

Cordingly Dam
Cordingly Dam

Just below Water Street in Wellesley is the Cordingly Dam. The last time I was here I entered the river to early and floated through the rapids unsuccessfully, leaving me flapping in the river like one of the herring in the dam’s fish ladder. Since I had the kids I was not going to risk tipping the kayak, so we took a much longer portage downstream.

We ended this stretch of the river at Washington Street / Route 16 in Wellesley at the top of Newton Lower Falls.

newton lower falls
Newton Lower Falls and the Route 16 Bridge

You can the rest of my paddling trips laid out on a map: Paddling Trips.

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Paddling the Dedham Loop

DSCN0007

If you want to take a long paddling trip on the Charles River and don’t own a canoe or kayak, this is a great choice. Charles River Canoe and Kayak will shuttle you up to Charles River Park on South Street in Needham and let you paddle back to Nahanton Park.

The Boy

The entrance is great, with a small amount of parking. Then, it’s a lazy cruise down the river, largely free of obstructions with lots of wildlife. The first notable landmark is a school on the left bank. The tennis courts and skating rink back up to the river.

Then you quickly come up to the Lyons Street bridge. The original bridge at this location was built prior to 1741 and has been rebuilt several times since. Below this bridge, the Charles crosses under Route 128 (I-95 for you latecomers to Boston) for the first of three crossings.

After that crossing we began the long loop around the marshes of Dedham. You can bypass the loop during high water by cutting across the Long Ditch. This was an early flood control measure on the Charles River. It was dug in 1654 to reduce flooding and improve the meadow grasslands. As you might expect, this too is part of the Natural Valley Storage Project on the Charles River, helping to alleviate flooding further downriver.

Another flood control measure is the Mother Brook diversion.

Entrance to the Mother Brook diversion.
Entrance to the Mother Brook diversion.

This outlet sends high water over to the Neponset River. Apparently, it can take the extra flow. Mother Brook is manmade. The 4000 foot ditch was dug in 1639 from the Charles River to East Brook to provide water flow to a new mill, then another, and another. The mills are long gone, but a flood gate now helps control the diversion.

This section of the river passes along the VFW Parkway with the Dedham Mall on the far side of the highway. Harvey Beach, the long discarded swimming spot on the Charles, is here.

High on the right bank is a treeless hill. This is the capped Gardner Street landfill, a major Boston dump from the 1930s to the 1970s. The river is wide in this section. It narrows to squeeze through a railroad bridge. If you time it just right, you can pass under as a commuter rail passes roars overhead.

The river widens again and eventually leads you to the dock at Nahanton Park.

dedham loop

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.

Bounding Down the Boardwalk at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

The Massachusetts Audubon Society put together a great wildlife sanctuary along the Indian Brook as it enters the Charles River. Broadmoor’s nine miles of walking trails ramblethrough a variety of field, woodland, and wetland habitats.

The highlight is a quarter-mile boardwalk along the wetlands. It offers a great opportunity to look for turtles and frogs. The Boardwalk has a railing on one side, but not on the other. The openness urges you to lay down and look hard at the marshy water for signs of water life.

The frogs are tough to see. The green of their skin is a close match to the green algae coating the surface of the water. The frogs were willing to sit there for a long time, staring back at you, while you stare down at them.

The turtles were much more shy. We could here the plop as they splashed into the water when they heard our footsteps approaching. They quickly gave up a sunny branch for the murky water of the marsh. If we lingered quietly long enough, we could see the gentle stirring of the water as the turtles probed the surface to see if they were once again alone. An amphibian head would poke up, look around, catch a glimpse of us staring back, and retreat into the murk.

I was familiar with the wonderful boardwalk. I did not pay attention to trail map. (or bother to stop and pick one up.) I was unaware that there were nine miles of trails. I became aware, as our short visit turned into a much longer trek wandering all the way out to the Charles River.

Broadmoor is a great place to visit and one of the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.

Why Isn’t Boston Flooded?

With the rest of the state underwater, why has the City of Boston stayed dry? After all that same Charles River that runs along the Back Bay is the same river that has over-spilled its banks throughout Metro West. You would think that Storrow Drive, the Esplanade and the Hatch Shell would be under water.

The answer: the New Charles River Dam. The six pumps in the dam are pushing over three million gallons of water per minute from the Charles River Basin into the harbor.

Here is the NECN story:

Postcards of the Charles River from the Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library has posted a collection of Newton post cards using Flickr. Several of the pictures show how the Charles River used to look in its run through Newton.

This looks like the dam at Upper Falls (the Silk Mill Dam):
upperfallsdam

You can compare this to my recent picture of the dam at Upper Falls from my paddling trip through Hemlock Gorge:
SIlk MIll Dam

It was interesting to see what the area around Horseshoe Dam looked like prior to the construction of Route 9, as seen in this picture:
old-horseshoe

Newton And The Charles River

The Boston Globe West has a story from the Newton History Museum at The Jackson Homestead focusing on the impact of the Charles River on Newton: Pages From Newton’s History.

The City of Newton is defined by the Charles. It has the river on its borders in the south, west, and north, and it was on the river’s banks that the city got its start — not as one unified town, but at first as a string of villages that grew up along the watercourse that provided abundant power for mills and manufacturing efforts. Improved transportation — first roads, then rail — gave those factories better access to markets. It also tied together the villages of Newton and brought the 18 square miles of farms and woods bounded by the Charles into a closer relationship with the metropolis at its doorstep, Boston.

. . .

The Charles today is slow and civilized, tamed by dams that have turned it into a series of elongated, picturesque lakes that make the river a marvelous resource for recreation and natural beauty. The original purpose of those dams was almost the opposite. They made the Charles a very hard-working river.

Paddling on the Bellingham Meadows

The Bellingham Meadows are part of the Natural Valley Storage Project. The Army Corps of Engineers uses stategic areas of wetlands along the Charles River to slow the progress of flood waters headed to Boston. Sensibly, the Army Corp recognized the ability of wetlands to hold back flood waters and have preserved 7800 wetland acres along the river. Bellingham Meadows is Area S of the Natural Valley Storage Project. I paddled through Area G of the project in the Stop River Confluence trip on the river.

For those of you who have only seen the Charles River lying between Cambridge and Boston, you would not recognize the river in the Bellingham Meadows, closer to the headwaters. At times the river was as narrow as the length of paddle. In several places it was even narrower. It started off as as a very peaceful and pleasant. It was a bit colder than it was earlier in the week.

I ran into the spookiest part of the entire river when I got to the Interstate 495 bridge.

1-495 Tunnel / Conduit
1-495 Tunnel / Conduit

You can in the picture see that the bridge is very low over the water. At the water level that day, I just barely fit under the bridge. I paddled for a few hundred yards in pitch darkness as the roof of the tunnel got lower and lower. By then end of the tunnel I had to duck down in the kayak to fit through. It is not just the parallax effect in the picture, the opening at the far end of the tunnel is about two feet shorter than the opening at the entrance.

The tunnel is intentionally low as part of the Natural Valley Storage Project flood control. The I-495 bridge acts as a culvert restricting the flow of the river. During times of high water, it acts as a dam limiting the flow of water downstream and backing the water into the Bellingham Meadows.

Downstream from the I-495 bridge the Bellingham Meadows gradually give way to uplands. Throughout the Bellingham meadows the river zigs-zags back and forth with sharp S-turns. High Street in Bellingham is actually a causeway across the meadows with a narrow bridge allowing the river to pass through.

Eventually the river reaches the North Bellingham Dam. That is where the day went downhill.

The North Bellingham Dam is a low structure that is crumbling and in disrepair. Downstream from the dam, the river is low, swift and rocky. There are also a few short ledge drop offs.

North Bellingham Dam
North Bellingham Dam

After my swimming experience at the Cordingly Dam during my trip on the Hemlock Gorge section of the river, I was very tentative about paddling through rocky swiftwater. I portaged the kayak about 100 yards from the dam to Maple Street. There is a large industrial building on the far side of Maple Street. I walked along the parking lot scouting for a place to get back in the river. The rocky fast water continued for several hundred more yards. This was a bad omen. Then the foliage between the parking lot and the river grew impenetrable. this was a bad omen. The other side of the river was wooded put looked passable so I portaged the kayak for half a mile through the woods, vines and thorns along the river bank. It was nasty hike. I should have noticed the lack of portage route as a bad omen.

I should have taken all of these omens to heart and not continued. I ignored the omens. I was halfway between my bike and the truck in an unfamiliar section of Massachusetts. I thought it would be better to continue downstream than to turn around and back upstream.

I thought wrong.

The section of the river downstream from the North Bellingham Dam is a miserable stretch of the river. It is narrow and over grown. It is full of debris and fallen branches. It is rocky and shallow. It is barely passable. I spent as much time using my hands to push the kayak off obstacles as I did using the paddle. I needed a saw more than I needed a paddle. At one point there was picnic table blocking the river. The only redeeming thing was the sudden appearance and disappearance of an eight point buck along the river.

Caryville Dam
Caryville Dam

I was happy to finally come to the small pond at the Caryville Dam. Even the takeout was miserable. The sides of the pond were overgrown and impenetrable. The only way out that I could find was a climb up a three foot high concrete wall next the dam. That means I had to pull myself and the kayak three feet straight up. Across the street from the dam is an abandoned factory. An ominous end to my week.

Caryville Factory
Caryville Factory

You can the rest of my paddling trips laid out on a map: Paddling Trips.

Paddling in Elm Bank and the Bays Region of the Charles River

It was another beautifully warm and sunny October day, so I went back to the Charles River. I put in just downstream from the South Natick Dam.

South Natick Dam
South Natick Dam

A little way downstream, I came across the beautiful Cheney Bridge spanning the river.

Cheney Bridge to Elm Bank
Cheney Bridge to Elm Bank

The Cheney bridge provides access to Elm Bank, a state-owned property with two miles of frontage on the river. The 182 acres of woodlands, fields, and old estate property is surrounded on three sides by the Charles River. Elm Bank was given its name in 1740, when Colonel John Jones acquired the land and planted elms along the banks of the Charles River. The site was later occupied by the Loring, Broad, and Otis families before being sold in 1874 to Benjamin Pierce Cheney. At the time of Cheney’s death in 1895, the property contained over 200 acres (80 hectares), and passed to his eldest daughter Alice in 1905. In 1907, Alice and her husband, Dr. William Hewson Baltzell, engaged an architectural firm to build a neo-Georgian manor house, and the most prominent landscapers of the day, the Olmsted Brothers, were hired to design and improve the gardens.  The entire site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and leased to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

Waban Arches
Waban Arches

When I came to the confluence with Waban Brook, I paddled upstream to the Waban Arches. These support the Sudbury Aqueduct which carried water from a reservoir in Framingham to Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston.

The Bays Region Stretches three miles from Charles River Street to the Cochrane Dam. These backwaters are abandoned channels formed as the river changed course as it flooded and re-formed in the flat-bottomed valley between Needham and Dover. The river is broad and flat through this section, meandering back and forth. There were numerous bays to duck into.

I ran into a few swans and a blue heron grazing in the marshy sides of the river.

Also along this stretch of the river was a diverse assortment of houses. There were simple houses and there were mansions, and everything in between. In particular, there was a striking contemporary with floor to ceiling walls of windows in every room.

A common theme for all the houses was their connection to the river. Almost every house had steps down to the river and many had boats visible in their yard.

The section of the river ended at the Cochrane Dam. Then I had a bike ride up the beautiful Claybrook Road through Dover to fetch the truck.

Cochrane Dam
Cochrane Dam

You can the rest of my paddling trips laid out on a map: Paddling Trips.