Saturday, October 9, 2010

Boat Launch at Tyngsboro Campground opening soon

The below linked article was in the Lowell Sun this week about the upcoming opening of the Tyngsboro Campgroud.  Amongst the park benches, swings for kids and horseshoe pits the campground will have the only cartop boat launch on the Merrimack River in Tyngsboro.  Unfortunately it looks like the park is for town residents only.  The article below has a video tour of the park.  No exact date of the opening but the article says they are hoping to open in the fall or spring.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Riverside Park, Haverhill MA to Cashman Park, Newburyport MA

View Haverhill to Newburyport in a larger map

I started my trip to Cashman Park in Newburyport from Riverside Park in Haverhill.  I headed out a little before 8am this past Sunday morning and the temperature outside read 46 degrees when I left the house.  A little bit chilly for me but the sun was out and according to the forecast it was to be a nice day. I have spoken to a couple people who have paddled this section of the Merrimack river and apparently Haverhill is the beginning of the tidal influence so you don't want to be paddling against the incoming tide.  It was recommended to start this paddle right around high tide so you can ride it our rather than fight the incoming tide.  I started my trip about an hour after high tide and it seemed to work out pretty well.  The last time I was at Riverside park the river was few feet lower. This time around the water was covering the bottom step of the stairs to the water.   Made for an interesting launch, luckily I stayed dry.

Merrimack River Boat Launch at Riverside Park
My trip started out pretty sunny with a 10 mph wind from the north, the wind was in my face for most of the trip but it would die down here and there to give me a break.  About a mile into the paddle you will pass under the Groveland Street Bridge.  This Bridge connects Haverhill on the left side of the river to Groveland on the right.  After passing under the bridge the river widens up a bit and the are a couple large marinas on the Haverhill side of the river.

 Groveland Street Bridge

Choppy water heading into the marina section
On the Groveland side of the river there is a park with a boat launch.  I couldn't find much information about this boat launch so I am not sure if it was private or for town residents only.   For the next 5 or so miles of the paddle the river is fairly wide and heads in a  northeasterly direction.  The shoreline was littered with big beautiful houses each with a dock extending dozens of feet into the river with and equally big and beautiful powerboats attached.  I was surprised bu the lack of powerboat traffic in the river but it was early on a pretty cool morning at the end of the boating season so that probably had a lot to do with it.  The foliage was starting to show in some sections, I think I was just a couple weeks early for peak foliage season.

 Groveland Boat Launch

 Falll is in the air

The next bridge that you will pass on this paddle is the Rocks Village Bridge which connects Haverhill with West Newbury.  This bridge was originally built in 1885 and is the oldest movable bridge under MassHighway control.  There is a 1-800 number on the bridge that you can call and apparently some guys will come out and manually open the bridge.  Hard to believe this is still done by hand.  I have never seen it open but it looks like it just rotates around the hub in the middle.  Would be interesting to see the guys running around the hub to open the bridge.

After the bridge the river curves to the right and heads in a more easterly direction.  In this section there are more marinas on the left side of the river and and not much development on the right side.   You will pass through the towns of Merrimack and Amesbury on the left side of the river.  The right side of the river is still West Newbury until you get to Newburyport.  Once you enter Newburyport, on the right side if the river is Maudslay State Park so there is no development in this section which is quite a contrast the abundance of marinas on the other side of he river.

Hatters Point Marina

Shoreline grasses alongt the state park
On the left side of the river in Amersbury is the mouth of the Powwow river.  I wanted to paddle up to get a closer look but the docks from the marina seemed to be blocking my way and I was getting a bit tired and needed to conserve my energy rather than go exploring.  The current was getting pretty strong in the section as well and I found it very difficult to paddle upstream for any distance.

Mouth of the Powwow River

At this point the river curves sharply to the right before you pass under the route 95 bridge..  This was the point where my trip began to get a little hairy.  I was on the right side of the river to avoid the marinas but I wanted to paddle around the islands on the left.  Unfortunately the current was way too strong and I couldn't get across to the left side of the river.  So I just let the current pull me past the right side of the islands.  There was one section just past the chain bridge where there were 2 foot waves where I assume the river was passing over some large rocks.  I was able to avoid them but there were more obstacles to come.  The last couple miles the weather seemed to turn a bit bad on me as it got a bit cloudy and colder.  The waves in this section were getting pretty big as well as I had a couple wash over my bow and completely soak me.  Guess I need to invest in a spray skirt.  There were also quite a few marinas that extended at least halfway across the river which prevented me from hugging the shore and I had to paddle basically down the middle of the river where it was pretty rough.   Interestingly a couple marine patrol boats kept passing by.  Not sure but I think they may have been keeping an eye on me in case I got into trouble.  I was the only kayak in the river, actually I was pretty much the only moving boat in the river.  I don't think I saw more that 10 boats pass me on this whole trip.

 Route 95 Bridge
Chain Bridge

Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the last section of the trip as this section was fairly rough   The islands that you will pass are Deer Island, Eagle Island, Carr Island, and Ram Island.  The bridge on the right side of the river connecting Deer island to Newburyport is called Chain Bridge,  This bridge was completed in 1910 and is the only suspension bridge maintained by MassHighway.  The bridge on the left side of the river connecting Amesbury to Deer Island is called the Derek S. Hines Memorial Bridge.  This section of the Merrimack River will also bring you into Salisbury on the left side of the river.  I am told that this area is a prime area for bald eagle viewing.  The eagles nest on these islands and can be seen all over the area.  My final mile or so of paddling past the islands on the left and the marinas on the right finally took me to my destination of Cashman Park.  Cashman park can get a bit crazy in the summer months but was pertty quiet for my take out.  This is a large park with lots of parking and two public boat ramps.  At the emd of my trip  I was a tired, cold and a pretty wet but happy to see my wife waiting for me with a change of clothes and a trip into Newburyport for a bowl of hot clam chowder.

Cashman Park

Total distance of this trip was just over 13 miles and it took me just under 4 hours.  This is a trip that I will definitely paddle again but next time I will be sure to not take the trip alone.  This section of the river can be pretty dangerous,   A couple of  people drowned just a bit downstream at the mouth over the summer.  This trip definitely gave me more respect for the river. This is a trip that should be paddled with a  buddy.  Next time I will also paddle north of the islands as well as to avoid the marinas and strong currents in this section.  Taking this paddle on a warmer day definitely would have been more comfortable but I assume that would have also increased the boat traffic. Also a less windy day probably would have made this trip quicker, drier and more comfortable as well.  Overall though a great trip and a definite learning experience.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Schruender Park, Methuen MA to Great Stone Dam, Lawrence MA

View Merrimack River - Schruender Park, Methuen to Great Stone Dam, Lawrence in a larger map

This is a trip I have been wanting to take all year but after some unsuccessful paddles upstream on this section of the Merrimack river I wanted to wait until the conditions were right.   This past weekend was perfect, no wind and nice cool temperatures.  I set out from  Schruender Park and started my paddle upstream toward Lawrence.  The river is pretty deep for the first mile and a half of this paddle so the current isn't too strong but you definitely do feel it.  With the lack of rain we have had this year the river is quite a few feet lower than normal.  I figure less water must mean less current, doesn't really seem to work out that way though.  There is quite a bit of wildlife on this section of river.  I mist have seem a dozen Great Blue Heron as well as geese. ducks and hawks.

One you get to the 495 double decker bridge the river gets pretty shallow and the current picks up a bit.  There are also a lot of rocks that I needed to navigate around. Once past the bridge you are looking into downtown Lawrence, beginning the urban section of this paddle trip.  Lawrence is home to many textile mills from the 1800s that used the river for power.   In recent years Lawrence has experienced some bad press but I have to say this was a very peaceful urban paddle on an early Sunday morning.

Just on the other side of the 495 bridge on the left side is mouth of the Shawsheen River.  I did not realize until recently that the Shawsheen River empties into the Merrimack here.  I have paddled past this section before and only noticed the tunnels nor realizing that it was actually the river passing through those tunnels.  The tunnels are about 650 feet long and appear to be under one of the offramps to 495.  I have read that you can paddle through these tunnels but with the water levels as low as they are this year the below picture was as close as I could get before bottoming out.  If you are looking for more information on the Shawsheen river the Shawsheen River Watershed Association has a website with a recreational map with boating put ins along the river.

Another couple hundred feet upstream on the right hand side of the Merrimack is the mouth of the Spicket River.  Like the Shawsheen, the Spicket was too shallow at its mouth for me to paddle upstream..  I think though that it may be possible in higher water conditions.  Hopefully the fall rains will raise the river levels enough for me to attempt this before the end of the season.  Otherwise I will have to wait until spring.

Paddling further upstream past various mills I found the current to be fairly string.  So strong in fact that I tried to limit my photography as every time I stopped paddling to take a picture the current would push me back downstream 10 or so feet.  I did make sure I stopped to take a couple pictures of the Ayer Mill Clock Tower.  This tower was recently refurbished and will be celebrating its 100th birthday next month.  Interestingly there was an article about the tower in the local paper this weekend which can be read here.

Continuing my paddle upstream for the final upstream mile to my destination the current got progressively stronger and water much more turbulent no doubt because of the water rushing over the Great Stone Dam.  The dam was completed in 1848, it spans 900 feet and is 35 feet high.  As I got closer to the dam the rocks on the left side of the river funneled the water through a fairly narrow passage making it impossuble to get any close than I did in the bottom picture.  The power of the water was impressive.  At some point I realized after looking at the shore that although I was paddling fairly vigorously, I was making no progress upstream.   At that point I stopped palling and just enjouyed the roar of the water coming over the dam and the scenery as the current carried me back downstream.  I think I got within about 500 feet of the dam which is probably as close as I am ever going to get.

The round trip distance of this paddle was just over 6 miles.  It took me about 3 hours to complete, obviously most time spent paddling upstream.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Nashua NH to Lowell MA

View Merrimack River - Nashua NH - Lowell MA in a larger map

This trip is the longest trip I have attempted to date, the fact that a made the trip on a very windy day added to the challenge.  Total distance of the trip is just about 13 miles.  The trip took about 4 hours with a quick stop for lunch, but it would have been faster if not for the wind in my face for most of the trip.

I didn't want to start this trip so far north but I couldn't find any kayak launches on the Merrimack River in South Nashua.  The launch I used is behind Greeley Park.  The launch was not on the state boating access site so I assume it is a maintained by the city.  To get to this launch head north on Concord St. past Greeley Park.  After the convenience store take a right onto Hills Ferry Road.  Hills Ferry road curves to the left, after the curve there is a dirt road on the right with a sign for the boat launch.  Cross the railroad tracks and follow the dirt road to the ramp.   The launch itself is a bit rough, most of the ramp is paved but it is deteriorating at the water's edge.  It is fine for kayakers and canoer's though.  There is plenty of parking on the sides of the dirt road/path.  As I was putting in there was a group of 8-10 kayakers dropping off cars for the take-out for their trip upstream.

Nashua Boat Ramp

The river banks on this section are fairly undeveloped.  A few houses here and there but for the most part the banks are mostly high and wooded.  About 2 miles downstream from the put on on the right side is the mouth of the Nashua River.  I would have liked to paddle upstream on the Nashua a bit but I needed to conserve my energy for the trip to Lowell so I will have to leave that for a future trip.  Although I am not sure how far upstream you can paddle without portaging as I believe there is a dam not too far upstream.

Mouth of the Nashua River

Just after the mouth of the Nashua River you pass will pass under the two route 111 bridges.  After passing under the bridges the are two old stone bridge abutments standing in the water.  They have some shrubs growing out of them  which makes them a but odd looking.  Kind of reminded me of something from the TV show Lost. 

Rt 111 Bridges

Old Bridge Abutments

As I mentioned earlier the banks are fairly undeveloped.  The right bank has a railroad track running along side it which is why there is no development to be seen.  But there are some interesting stone bridges along the way.  Another area that would be nice to explore on a future trip below.

Stone Rail Bridge

As I headed further downstream I could see in the distance what looked like something white bobbing up and down in the water.  As I got closer I realized that it was actually splashing water.  I picked up my paddling pace a bit in case someone was in trouble, not that I could rescue anyone from my fairly unstable kayak.   As I got even closer still I realized that the splashing was in fact water bubbling up in form of  a small geyser from some underwater discharge pipe.  I had a good idea what might be bubbling up there so I didn't get too close but did snap a few pics.  Upon getting home and performing a quick google search I found that there is a waste water treatment plant right behind where the small geyser was.  The water around it looked to be kind of soapy so I am hoping that it was in fact treated.  The area did not smell any worse than the rest of the river so I am hoping that I did not paddle through raw sewerage.

Waste Water Discharge

Continuing downstream for a couple more miles you will pass under the second set of bridges of the trip.  The secind set of bridges is the Circumferential Highway Bridge which connects Route 3A in Hudson NH to Route 3 and the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua.  A couple more miles downstream and you will cross the border into Tyngsboro MA.  This was a little past the halfway point of the trip but was a good point for me to stop for a quick lunch.  There are very few places to stop along this stretch of the river as the banks are so steep and high.  the spot I found was apparently used frequently as there was remnants of a bonfire and some trash strewn about.  Not sure why people don't pick up after themselves.

Not a bad view for lunch

The Tyngsboro leg of this paddle was interesting for me as I grew up in Tyngsboro but never explored the river so it was nice to see a new side of the place I grew up.   Just about 2 miles into Tyngsboro on the east bank of the river there is a park being constructed.   From the water I could see benches and there appeared to be grass planted so it may be close to opening.  Most importantly is there is a kayak launch in the park.  This park used to be a trailer park that was closed years ago.  The park can be accessed from Frost Road once it is opened.  A quick google search turned up nothing on the park so I guess I will need to keep checking back.

Tyngsboro kayak / canoe access

After the park the river twists to the right then back to the left and straightens out for the run under the old Green Tygnsboro Bridge.  The old green bridge is currently under construction so there is a temporary bridge right next to t that is carrying the traffic. 

Tyngsboro Brigge

A bit before the bridge and for the next mile or so there is a 20 foot hight stone wall running along the west bank if the river.  There are a couple stone rail bridges along this stretch as but surprisingly not a lot of graffiti.  When I was in elementary school I was told there were tunnels in this section of the river leading to the Tyng Mansion that were part of the underground railroad.  I paddled pretty close to wall for the entire stretch but did not see the remains of any tunnels.  If they are any tunnels there I am sure they were sealed up long ago for safety reasons.

Continuing downstream for a couple more miles you will con upon the Vesper Country Club.  There was quite a bit of boat and jet ski traffic on the outside on the island so I opted to paddle on the inside.  I made an trip with the MRWC upstream and around the island a couple weeks ago so you can go here to see this section of the trip.

Vesper Country Club

Once past the Vesper Country Club I paddled about 2 more miles to my take-out at the boat launch in Lowell.  There is an alternate take-out at the North Chelmsford boat launch which I used a couple weeks ago for my trip with the MRWC.  The Lowell boat launch is really nice and fairly new I think.  There used to be a launch further downstream across from Heritage Ice cream but that has closed.  The Lowell Boat launch is called the Rourke Brothers Memorial Boat Ramp.  The ramp is intended for power boats but is wide enough for a kayak to sneak in on the sides if a power boat is launching.  The parking lot is very large and paved (unlike the North Chelmsford ramp) and there is a dock on the left side of the ramp.  Given their relative proximity, parking availability and ease of getting in and out of I would definitely use this ramp over the North Chelmsford Ramp.

Rourke Brothers Boat Ramp - Lowell MA

I think this would have been a perfect trip had it not been for the wind.  The wind probably added a half hour to the trip and I am still feeling it in may arms and shoulders a few days later.  What I love about taking new kayaking trips is that they always spawn a couple new trips for the future.  Really looking forward to teh opeming of the new park in Tyngsboro as there are so many intersting little places to explore around that section of the Merrimack river.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Merrimack River Kayak Trip - Dracut MA to Lawrence MA

View Dracut to Lawrence in a larger map

I was hoping to start this trip a little further upstream but I couldn't find any good put ins.  In addition there is a water treatment plant upstream in Lowell.  Having experienced the smell coming from the plant while driving in my car I have no desire to kayak through it.  I found a pretty good put in on route 110 in Dracut almost directly across from the entrance to Brox Industries.  It is a small pulloff with parking for a couple cars right on the banks of the Merrimack.

This trip starts in Dracut but after about a quarter mile you will be in Methuen.  For the first couple miles of this trip the banks of the river are completely undeveloped.  The river is fairly wide and deep so expect to see some power boat traffic.  I made this trip on a weekday afternoon and encountered at least 6 power boats.  As you get further downstream there are more residences along the left bank, many with docks, power boats and jet skis.  It was nice to see the Methuen Police boat docked as well.  I am sure they are kept busy with the powerboat traffic on the weekend

A couple miles in you will encounter an island on the left bank.  I opted to paddle the narrow channel inside the island.  All of the houses along the channel had docks with a couple boats docked on each one.  The channel does have a no wake zone sign posted so  it is a kayak safe area.

Another mile of paddling will take you around a bend to the right and under the route 93 overpass.  I have driven over that overpass thousands of times nice to finally paddle under it. 

There is very little development on the right bank of the river until you get to Lawrence.   Just before the end of this trip I noticed a marina on the right bank.  In doing some research for this blog post I learned that it is the Abe Bashara Boathouse which is part of Greater Lawrence Community Boating.  They appear to offer inexpensive sailing, rowing and paddling classes.  Interestingly I never knew this place existed until today.  Might be something to look into in the future.

Just a few hundred yards down from the boathouse is the boat launch at Lawrence Riverfront State park.  The park has a large ramp and a large parking lot that was pretty empty on the day of my paddle.  The neighborhood isn't the greatest though, I had my wife pick me up when I was done my paddle as I didn't want to leave my car in the parking lot.  Just downstream from the take out is the Great Stone Dam and powerplant. There are barrels strung across the river as well as signs warning you not to venture further downstream.  I do plan to make a trip upstream to the Great Stone Dam.  The dam itself is said to be a tourist destination and there are some pretty interesting mill old buildings in that stretch of river as well.

The total distance of this trip was about 5.5 miles and it took me about 2 hours to paddle.  It was a nice little afternoon trip,  Not sure I would attempt it on the weekend though as I assume the boat traffic gets pretty heavy.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Merrimack River and Stony Brook Kayak Trip - North Chelmsford / Tyngsboro

View Merrimack River - North Chelmsford / Tyngsboro in a larger map

This past Saturday I met up with a group of kayakers from the Merrimack River Watershed Council for a nice quiet paddle on the Merrimack River.  The MRWC offers free weekly trips along the Merrimack watershed for paddlers of all abilities.  You can find a link to their upcoming trips here.

I met up with our trip leader for the day (Bill) and about a half dozen other paddlers at Southwell Field in North Chelmsford.  The put in allows power boats to launch but it wasn't too busy on Saturday morning.  Probably because there is another power boat launch across the river in Lowell.  The parking lot at Southwell Field is shared with some ball fields so parking  was a bit tight as there were quite a few games going on.  Nobody in our group seemed to have a problem finding a spot though.

Put in at Southwell Field

After some brief introductions and an overview of our trip we headed upstream toward Tyngsboro.  The river is pretty wide and deep in this section of the Merrimack so the current isn't really noticeable.  There are a few houses along the banks but nothing overly exciting to look at.  There was a bit more power boat traffic tn that part of the river but it was a good opportunity for me to experience some waves. Luckily they didn't pose much of an issue.
Heading upstream

Our trip took us to the northernmost point of Tyng Island (home of the Vesper Country Club).   From here we turned back downstream on the inside of the island.  The section of the river on the inside of the island is much more narrow and has a more intimate feel to it.  The wildlife in this section seemed to increase as well as we saw a couple Green Heron.  We continued downstream into the open section of the river and were surprised that this portion of the trip had only taken us an hour.  Along our trip back downstream we came upon the Chelmsford Police Boat who were looking for some jet skiers that were apparently tearing up and down the river.  We took our time paddling back to the put-in for a quick lunch before the second leg of our trip.

Back downstream inside Tyng Island

The second leg of our trip took us just a bit downstream to the mouth of Stony Brook.   I couldn't find a lot of information on the web related to Stony Brook but from what I can tell its source is Forge Pond in Westford, MA.  At the mouth of Stony Brook there is a cool little rail bridge that a couple guys were fishing from as we passed under.  At this time of the year the brook is pretty shallow so we couldn't head too far upstream but the section we explored was by far the most interesting part of the trip.  The section winds through a series of tunnels and archways beneath some old mill buildings.  Our trip leader suggested bringing headlamps but my lamp proved to be too weak to see anything in the last tunnel section.  I borrowed another headlamp from a fellow kayaker and found this last tunnel to lead to nowhere (well, a brick wall). It was actually pretty creepy traveling down this tunnel.  The tunnel itself was only a couple hundred feet long but it was so dark that you couldn't see more than a couple feet in front of you.  As I was paddling through the tunnel I could hear the voices of my fellow kayakers who were waiting at the tunnel entrance echoing as if they were right next to me.  There was also some water dripping on me as I paddled through the tunnel which brought the creep factor up a notch.    The tunnel ended with an old rusted pole, a wall and unfortunately a bit of trash piled up at the end of the tunnel.   As I tried to turn around and head out I learned that the tunnel was less than 10 feet wide, so I would not be turning around in my 11 foot kayak.  I had to paddle backwards in the dark using the walls of the tunnel to guide me back out.

Mouth of Stony Brook

Mortarless Archway

Tunnel under a mill

Creepy Tunnel to nowhere

The brook got more shallow upstream so was about as far as we could go so we headed back to the put in to finish a nice little trip.  Total distance of this trip was just under 5 miles and it took us about 3 hours including a stop for lunch. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Concord River Kayak Trip - Lowell to North Billerica

View Concord River in a larger map

The Concord River is 15 mile long river starting in Concord MA and emptying into the Merrimack River in Lowell MA.  The river was the subject of the 1849 book "A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" by Henry David Thoreau.

My Kayaking trip along the Concord River was approximately 7 miles round trip and took me about 2-1/2 hours.  I basically paddled between the dam in Lowell and the dam in North Billerica and back.  I put-in at the only official boat launch on the Concord River.  The launch is in Lowell at the intersection of Lawrence and Billerica Streets.  The launch is part of a small park, there is plenty of parking and a short crushed stone path to the cement dock/ramp.

I knew from google maps that there was a dam a bit downstream so I would not get very far but there is an old abandoned rail trestle running through the side of the river that I wanted to get a look at.  Not sure why it wasn't built on dry land but probably has something to do with the cemetery on the other side.  So I headed downstream under two bridges and got about as close as I dared to the falls at the dam.  I have read that in the spring there are whitewater rafting trips offered on the section downstream of the dam.  Some of the rapids being class IV, I don't think I will be kayaking downstream anytime soon.

A quick turnaround and I headed upstream.  I am used to paddling upstream in the Merrimack River which varies from difficult to impossible so I was quite surprised to as noticed not much of a current at all in the Concord.   There are some residences along the banks of the river but very few docks.  I expected to see a bit of boat traffic but I had the river all to myself except for a few people fishing from the banks.     

For the most part the banks of the river are lined with grasses and flowering plans which provide a nice refuge for wildlife.  I saw a Great Blue Heron, Red Tailed Hawks and turtles sunning themselves on rocks as I paddled by.  A mile into my paddle I was confronted with the a floating sign warning me of the construction ahead on the 495 overpass.    The rest of the trip into North Billerica is dotted with houses but still a pretty quiet trip.

The last section of this trip took a hard left and led me up to an industrial building sitting what seemed like in the middle of the river.  There is a narrow section along the left of the building allowing you to paddle fairly close to the falls.  I does get a bit shallow though so you can't get too close.  This was the end of the line so I rested for a few minutes and let the stronger current from the falls push me back downstream a bit before I started my paddle back to Lowell.

Overall I really enjoyed this section of the Concord River, it is fairly local and provides a nice diversion from my regular trips along the Merrimack.  I believe there is a fairly popular kayaking put-in in Concord MA that I would like to investigate at some point in the future.