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.


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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Gravestone Peeping at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery is America’s first landscaped cemetery. Apparently that distinction entitled it to two entries on the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. Most of the cemetery is located in Watertown, though the entrance lies in Cambridge. That must be why only Cambridge claimed it.

Aside from the list-makers’ failures, Mount Auburn Cemetery is a magnificent place to visit. The cemetery is credited as the beginning of the American public parks and gardens movement. It was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States.

I’m not sure I understand why they allow cars to drive on the cemetery’s road, but prohibit bicycles and motorcycles.

Given its stature, there are many prominent residents:

I had never visited before and did so just to put another checkmark on my list. Even The Boy said the place was “pretty cool.” He wants go back there again and see more.

Dr. Paul Dudley White Bicycle Path

Only Cambridge takes credit for the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path in the 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts. Watertown, Newton and Boston failed to take credit for the portions of the 17 mile bike path that loops around the Charles River Basin. It stretches on both sides of the river from the Museum of Science to Watertown Square.

As one of the many defects in the published list of 1,000 Great Places(.pdf), the place is identified as the “Dr. Paul W. White Bike Path” in Cambridge. I suppose “W.” and “Dudley” sound similar.

Who was Dr. White?

He was an international famous cardiologist. He was probably most famous for acting as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s physician following his heart attack in 1955. He was one of the founders of the American Heart Association and became the organization’s president in 1941.

Dr. White was a staunch advocate of exercise, diet, and weight control in the prevention of heart disease. It’s no surprise that he was a bicycle enthusiast

“We must establish more bike path and trails throughout the country. I’d like to see everyone on a bike – not just once in a while, but regularly as a routine. The bicycle should become a superb resource for the whole family to enjoy the beauties of nature, whether in our national parks, along our seacoasts, or simply in our beautiful woods and fields the country over.” American Cycling, August 1968, 200,000 Miles of Bikeways!(.pdf)

In riding the path, I only found one small sign (pictured) that indicated it was the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bicycle Path. That was in the Boston section, at about where Exeter Street would intersect with the bike path.

He would be disappointed in the current condition of the bike path that carries his name. (Maybe that’s why there are so few signs.) The quality varies from nice wide cycling boulevards with center stripes to narrow stretches of broken asphalt with dangerous drops at the edges. In some places it is barely wide enough for one bicycle to pass another safely.

The road intersections are particularly poor. The intersections largely ignore the bike path, forcing you into some dangerous traffic interactions. I find (1) the Boston intersection with Western Avenue, (2) the Boston intersection with Arsenal Street, and (3) the intersections with North Beacon Street in Boston and Watertown to be dangerous. Not just for bikes. Pedestrians also dread these intersections.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation extended the path into the Auburndale section of Newton, weaving back and forth across the many road intersections and bridges that cross the Charles River.

Here is what I have so far on 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts:

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