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.