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.
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.