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.