Paddling from Populatic Pond

Paddling Populatic Pond

After the difficult kayaking through Medway, the open expanse of Populatic Pond was a welcome relief. It gave us the opportunity to drift lazily in the breeze and fill our bellies with snacks.

The downstream exit from the pond was just a few hundred yards along the North coast. The Charles River then winds wide through a marsh, actually an extension of the pond itself. The river languishes peacefully with just a gentle current to urge us downstream.

Then there is a sharp turn as we passed under the Myrtle Street bridge. In our high water, there was a set of rapids ahead, giving us a fun, quick ride downstream. But towards a treacherous island in the center over the river. A few quick strokes pushed us around the obstacle. There was a temporary slack as we passed under the power lines, then another big push as the river squeezed through the abandoned railroad abutments of the Medway Branch Railroad bridge.

We hit calm water for a bit more, then we saw an old house straight ahead on the left bank of the river, as the river takes a sharp turn right.

Around the bend is the Pleasant Street bridge. And a nasty set of rapids. According to Ron McAdow’s guide to The Charles River, it’s best to stay on the left during high water. At medium water, the right side is better. And in low water you may need to portage over the obstacles.

Since we had high water, we went left. First we hit an off camber drop that spun us right, I dug in hard to turn us straight downstream and to skitter through the bumps and troughs of water.

But I missed one near the end and we high-centered on top of a rock with the river rushing past us. Fortunately, it only took me a hop up and down out of my seat to catch some water under the boat to free us.

Pleasant Street Bridge

Pleasant Street Bridge

We quickly reached the Route 115 bridge, then the riverbanks became wild once again. At least relatively wild. The right bank is plastered with warnings that it is used as shooting reserve and not to trespass. The left bank is largely undeveloped and eventually yields to the Cedariver, a Trustees of the Reservation property.

You end up with about 1.5 miles of calm, scenic river to paddle.

The last obstacle is the Forest Road bridge.

Forest Road Bridge

Forest Road Bridge

The bridge sits low over the river. We were riding high water and there was only about a foot and a half of clearance. We were not sure if the bow of the kayak would fit under. Even if it did, we were even less sure that the two of us and the kayak would fit.

There was only one way to find out.

Under the Forest Road Bridge

Under the Forest Road Bridge

It was snug. We didn’t have room to paddle, but we could reach up and push ourselves using the underside of the bridge.

Just past the bridge is a small parking lot that is often under water. The water level had dropped about foot since we were here last weekend paddling through Area F, but the lot was still deep under water.

populatic pond

Paddling Though Area F with the Kids

June has been a very wet month and the rain of a few days ago has pushed the Charles River into flood stage. I thought it would be a good day to see how the river looks in flood stage. This section of the river also is part of the flood control measures for the river.

dover flood level

We put in at Forest Road in Millis. Literally at Forest Road. The parking lot and launch area was underwater and we launched the big red kayak from the side of Forest Road. We already had our first taste of the floodwaters and had not even started paddling.

Doug The Boy The Girl and Our Red Kayak

For those of you who are only familiar with the Charles River Basin between Cambridge and Boston, this upper stretch of the Charles River is nothing like the Basin.

natural valley storage area

This section of the Charles is part of the Natural Valley Storage Project. In 1974 Congress authorized the “Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area,” allowing for the acquisition and permanent protection of 17 scattered wetlands in the middle and upper watershed. The final acquisition totaled 8,103 acres, with 3,221 acres of land acquired in fee and 4,882 acres in flood easement.

These wetlands form a natural reservoir. They soak up the floodwaters and allow the water level to spread over a wide area. Otherwise the heavy flow of water would rush downstream and flood the developed areas along the river, including Boston itself.

Area F is the largest area of the Natural Valley Storage Area and lies in Millis, Medfield, Norfolk and Sherborn.

With all of the rain, Area F would be put to it’s test of holding flood waters.

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Only boats would be parking here today.

The Charles River meanders quite a bit in this section, swishing back and forth through the marshy wetlands. With the high water, we were able to cut across some of the meanderings as the water flowed right over some of the marsh.

On one bank was Millis, on the other Medfield. This area attracted the first settlers of Medfield. The natural hay from these meadows along the river was valuable fodder for their livestock.

At one stretch, the left-hand bank in Millis is owned by a hunting club. We could hear some shotgun blasts echoing across the valley.

Route 109 Bridge

Route 109 Bridge

I had a bit of concern about our ability to fit under the Route 109 bridge. It’s smallish opening helps hold back some of the water in Area F, pushing it out into the meadows. But we were able to make it under with reasonable clearance.

The next obstacle was the railroad bridge just downstream of the West Street Bridge between Medfield and Millis. Originally, this section of Millis was part of Medfield. Since the town’s Puritans lived on both sides of the river, they needed a bridge to get back and forth to the weekly meeting. The original bridge was constructed in 1653. During King Philip’s War, the Native Americans burned the original bridge in 1676.

The trestle offered narrow openings and the bloated river was flowing quickly through. A few quick, sharp strokes got the kayak in position, through, and out the other side.

Railroad bridge at West Street

Railroad bridge at West Street

As we paddled further downstream, the floodwaters spread far across the marshy valley. I was hoping to be able to paddle up Bogastow Brook. This is the largest tributary of the Charles River. With the wide expanse of the floodwaters it was often hard to find the path of the river as it flowed over marshes, bushes and trees that normally cut a path for the flow. This is Area G of the Natural Valley Storage Area.

I thought I might not be able to find the brook. Eventually I saw a bigger opening and an obvious flow of additional water. It was a short, twisted path upstream to South End Pond. I assume this stretch is normally a bit scratchy, but the floodwaters made it easy to get upstream.

After making it to the pond, we headed back to the Charles, downstream to the Route 27 bridge and the takeout.

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Striking a pose at the put in.

Stop River Confluence on the Charles River

It has been a long time since I have been in the kayak. Given my current free time, I thought it would it would be a great activity on a beautiful fall day.

I have read that the Stop River Confluence area between Millis and Medfield is a beautiful stretch of the river. It certainly is.  View Map of the Route

I put in at a launching site on Forest Road in Millis.  There is gravel parking lot with space for 5 or 6 cars. It had nice gentle entrance into the Charles.

The weather was beautiful, 70’s and not a cloud in the sky. This section of the Charles is flatwater, with just a gentle current.

This section of the Charles is the largest area of the Natural Valley Storage Project. In 1974 Congress authorized the “Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area,” allowing for the acquisition and permanent protection of 17 scattered wetlands in the middle and upper watershed. final acquisition totaled 8,103 acres, with 3,221 acres of land acquired in fee and 4,882 acres in flood easement, at ta project cost of $8,300,000. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife manages the fish and wildlife resources in some of the Corps’ fee – owned land.

For those of you who are only familiar with the Charles River Basin between Cambridge and Boston, this upper stretch of the Charles River is nothing like the Basin.

The beauty of the Charles

The beauty of the Charles

The river meanders back and forth for miles.  The leaves were changing, so the there were bursts of red and yellow along the banks. This section of the Charles River is mostly through conservation land.  I saw just a few houses along the banks.

There was a road crossing under Route 109 and you could hear a nearby gravel pit churning along. But those were the only signs that you were within 25 miles of downtown Boston.

On one bank was MIllis, on the other Medfield. This area attracted the first settlers of Medfield. The natural hay from the meadows along the river was valuable fodder for their livestock.

At one stretch, the left-hand bank in Millis is owned by a hunting club. I got stared down by a hunting dog. His hunter came strolling along, only to be disappointed to discover a kayaker instead of something to shoot at.

The day’s route ended at a railroad bridge. This railroad bridge is just downstreamof the West Street Bridge between Medfield and Millis. Originally, this section of Millis was part of Medfield. Since the town’s Puritans lived on both sides of the river, they needed a bridge to get back and forth to the weekly meeting. The original bridge was constructed in 1653.  During King Philip’s War, the Native Americans burned the original bridge in 1676.

My bike was waiting for me at the kayak take-out. I took a quick bike ride back to the truck, through the bike in and went back for the kayak.  I snuck in a few miles of bike riding to go along with the paddle.