Monday, February 1, 2016

A Friendly February

The month of February arrived on the scene this morning in a most friendly manner and allowed this paddler to know the feeling of winning the PowerBall.  Having the good fortune of a day off from work allowed me to access the almost completely ice-free Assabet River from Magazu's Landing in Stow.

After paddling upriver I easily gained entry to Fort Meadow Brook and ascended it...
With temperatures rising into the low 60s (F.) it was like a dream.  My ascent ended at the beaver dam below the abandoned railroad trestle...
 ...where I could see how the passageways beneath the trestle have been cleaned out.  It almost looked navigable.

Returning to the river I continued upriver to where the river gets funneled...
Beavers built a dam here when water levels stayed low for an extended period last summer, and their workmanship is holding up well.  Here's a closer look...
Made a good spot to take lunch before heading back downriver with help from a southwest breeze.

Encountered some swans on ice...

A red-tailed hawk...

Canada geese were holding a meeting...
...before taking off into the breeze...

I continued past Sudbury Rd. to see if the shallow bay at Crow Island was open or iced...
...open and being enjoyed by common mergansers.

The trash haul reflected, once again, someone's penchant for good oral hygiene...
...a baker's dozen of empty mouthwash bottles.

Whatever the second half of winter brings it will be a lot easier to take following this welcome intermission.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cocoa Island

On this unseasonably warm last day of January I headed up the Sudbury River to answer the burning question of the day.  No...not what did the latest poll show or what did some pundit or candidate say... but rather, was Fairhaven Bay still frozen over?  My guess was I'd be finding open water and enjoying a hot cocoa break on Brooke Island.

En route I passed under several of Concord's bridges including the one at Nashawtuc Road (opening photo).  Between the South Bridge and Route 2 this portly fellow was enjoying some Sunday brunch...
After seeing him, I didn't feel nearly as bad about the extra pounds I put on during the recent holiday season.  He gave me a look like he might be considering me as his next meal...


At Fairhaven Bay I got within sight of Brooke Island...
...where I found I'd guessed wrong, and my upriver progress came abruptly to a stop as the bay was still iced all the way across...
Even worse the ice was still thick enough to support these ice fishermen...
So, with the question of the day now answered I turned about and headed downriver as the sun emerged and the day warmed nicely.

Caught one of the new MBTA locomotives crossing the recently rebuilt bridge over the river near Rt. 62...


 Reaching the confluence at Egg Rock...
...I elected to try having my cocoa break on the smaller Willow Island in the Assabet River.  Arriving there I found the island giving me the cold shoulder...
Fortunately there was one small gap in the ice shelf just big enough to allow my landing...
...and some hot cocoa was finally enjoyed in the proper manner.

The recent drop in river level was easy to see where bits of ice shelf clung to the riverbank...

So long to a relatively benign January 2016.

A small amount of trash gathered up along the way...
 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Navigating a Quagmire

In ascending waterways a paddler often reaches the point where further navigation looks doubtful.  It's where the paddler must decide if the effort needed to continue is worth making.  Will the paddler be rewarded by additional miles of passage, or just a couple of yards?  For a recreational paddler, like myself, the consequences of such a decision are not that critical either way.  Allow me to make a parallel here to the journey of  the Mashpee Wampanoag people.

After recently reading an article Battle Brewing Over Tribes Planned Taunton Casino by Sean Murphy in the Boston Globe (1/13/2016), I've found myself pondering the long and difficult journey the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been making against a strong current for several centuries.  It has not been a recreational journey, but rather a journey undertaken for their very survival as a people.  Despite obstacles at almost every turn they've continued to keep on keeping on and, finally, just when it now looks like they may have achieved their goal, a new obstacle has arisen in the form of a threatened law suit...not by a government entity, but rather by so-called concerned citizens.

Fair warning...if you the reader continue beyond this point you'll be entering a man-made quagmire unlike any I've ever heard of. 

The making of this quagmire began way back in 1934...in the depths of the Great Depression.  The Roosevelt administration was offering America a New Deal, and one component of that deal addressed Native Americans and was called the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).  The act was a radical departure from the government's previous policy of encouraging Native Americans to assimilate into the general population and give-up their old ways and customs.   Under the Indian Reorganization Act the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would help to strengthen, encourage, and perpetuate the tribes and their historic traditions and culture.  A key feature of the act granted the BIA the authority to take land into trust for "persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under federal jurisdiction."  That sentence didn't create too many problems until after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 went into effect and allowed federally recognized Native American tribes to generate income from gaming (aka casinos).  Many tribes in the northeast had already been pursuing federal recognition for many years.  The federal recognition process requires a tribe to meet seven criteria:
  1. that the petitioner has been identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900;
  2. that the petitioner has comprised a distinct tribal community from historical times to the present;
  3. that the petitioner has maintained political influence or authority over its members from historical times to the present;
  4. that the petitioner has submitted a governing document, including its membership criteria, or describing its structure;
  5. that the membership of the petitioner descends from an historic tribe or tribes;
  6. that a majority of the members of the group are not members of another federally recognized tribe; and
  7. that the petitioner has not been the subject of congressional action which prohibits a federal relationship.
Meeting those criteria is not easily done, and for many tribes located in the northeast the process took many years regardless of the fact that these tribes existed long before Europeans arrived upon their shores.

Two Connecticut tribes the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans achieved federal recognition in 1983 and 1994 respectively.  Rhode Island's Narragansett tribe was recognized in 1983 and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts in 2007.
Both the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and Mohegan Tribe were successful in having land placed into trust by the BIA and subsequently built casinos (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun) which operate to this day.
However, when the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island applied to have some of their land placed into trust (for elderly housing), then Rhode Island governor Don Carcieri filed a lawsuit challenging the BIA's right to place the land into trust.  The governor lost his challenge in court and appealed.  His appeal lost but he doggedly pushed on with still another appeal to a higher court and lost again.  However his third attempt at preventing the Narragansett tribe from having land placed into trust went to the US Supreme Court where the justices spent considerable time parsing the sentence "persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under federal jurisdiction".   The word "now" became the deciding factor with the majority ruling that the IRA of 1934 applied only to Indians recognized by the federal government in 1934.   Really?  Can you imagine the Civil Rights Act applying only to folks who were existing in 1964 when the act went into effect?
At any rate this decision is what created today's quagmire in regards to the Mashpee Wampanoag.  A "Catch 22" resulting from the meaning given to one word "now".
Confusing?  Yes...but wait, there's more.

The state of Massachusetts legalized gaming in 2011 announcing there would be three regional casinos licensed in the state.  I, for one, was pleasantly surprised when I heard that the Mashpee Wampanoag would be given first preference in being granted the license for southeastern Massachusetts...provided they could get land placed into trust.  I was prouder still when I saw my state displaying patience in waiting several years for the process to unfold.  However, other, competing interests (non Native American) grew impatient and wanted the state to stop waiting for the tribe to receive a favorable decision.

In 2014 the United States Department of the Interior issued a 26 page memorandum addressing this issue thoroughly and concluded as follows: "The Department will continue to take land into trust on behalf of tribes under the test set forth herein to advance Congress' stated goals of the IRA to provide "land for the Indians".
On December 31, 2015 true to their word the BIA took 321 acres of land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag.  This should be the final resolution...however the competing interests are now threatening a lawsuit following the path of R.I. governor Donald Carcieri in parsing the word "now".

I sincerely hope that those trying to derail the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe from having their land placed into trust will take the time to read the earlier linked US Dept. of the Interior memorandum before getting everyone bogged-down in the quagmire.

Parsing words can become a slippery slope as I recall from my own childhood.
My father was explaining to my brother and me the family motto "Dixit et fecit" and very seriously stated it was a phase in Latin meaning "He said, he did".  My younger brother responded by saying perhaps it meant "He said he did" as in someone deflecting blame for not having done something he was supposed to have done!  I remember my father being less than amused.  I was amused as Mo, Larry, and Curley instantly came to mind.   Another phrase comes to mind here from the 1976 movie The Outlaw Josey Wales where the Native American character Lone Watie recalls a US government official having told his tribe's leaders that they must "endeavor to persevere".  Haven't the Mashpee Wampanoag people " endeavored to persevere" long enough?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Brief January Window

Awaking to yesterday's rainstorm I had no plans to get out on the water.  However, when the rain let up at noontime I stepped out to get the mail and was surprised with how relatively mild it felt.  Hints of developing sunshine could also be seen.  So, shortly after rounding up my boat and appropriate apparel, gear, et. all  ("Minuteman"-like), I found myself at the confluence of the Assabet, Concord, and Sudbury rivers where water levels had risen nicely (photo at left).

After ascending the Assabet River up to and a little beyond Spencer Brook I returned to the confluence just as the sun began emerging behind me...


Then it was down the Concord River and under the Old North Bridge...
...where things were found quite peaceful.

Below Flint's Bridge the Concord looked stately and serene...
...as the clouds retreated to the northeast.

The trip back upriver was into some intense low-angle sun where a little shade was found at Flint's Bridge...

I arrived back at the confluence as the sun began sinking behind the trees at Egg Rock...

This unexpected sojourn provided just the tonic I needed at this time of the year, and it was nice finding it only a few miles from my front door.

Some trash gathered up along the way...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Water Fit for Paddling?

Recently someone commented on a past post about my having paddled a river in north central Massachusetts.  The commenter suggested I wouldn't have paddled that waterway had I read an EPA report (not identified), and  recommended that others contemplating such a paddle should read the (unidentified) EPA report before doing so.  Because both the EPA report mentioned and the alluded-to concern were not identified, I chose not to publish the comment.

However, it did get me thinking about how a paddler in Massachusetts can get some idea as to the water quality of a waterway he's about to dip his paddle into.  My research brought me to two resources which, when combined, provide what I consider to be a reasonable assessment of water quality.

The first and simplest resource is the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards (314 CMR 4.00) developed by the MassDEP Division of Water Pollution Control.  One goal of these standards is to "prescribe the minimum water quality criteria required to sustain the designated uses". 
Water quality criteria include dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, bacteria, solids, color and turbidity, oil and grease, and taste and odor.
 
Designated uses can include source of public water supply, habitat for fish, other aquatic life, and wildlife, including for their reproduction, migration, growth, and other critical functions, and for primary (swimming) and secondary (boating) contact recreation.

The river basins and coastal drainage areas within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have been divided into 27 zones, and the waterways within each zone classified as either Class A, Class B, or Class C (fresh waters).  Coastal and Marine waters are classified as either Class SA, SB, or SC.
 
Class A waters are those having a water quality sufficient for use as a public water supply, excellent habitat for fish, aquatic life, and wildlife as well as primary and secondary contact recreation.  These waters have the best water quality but, as a rule, both primary and secondary contact recreation is not allowed on them in order to maintain their relatively pristine status.

Class B waters are those with the next best water quality and provide suitable habitat for fish, aquatic life, and wildlife as well as primary and secondary (paddling) contact recreation.  In certain cases Class B water can be a source for a public water supply if treated (i.e. Concord River down to Billerica).   Most of the Massachusetts waterways I paddle are Class B.

Class C waters are those with a lower level water quality and provide suitable habitat for fish, aquatic life, and wildlife as well as secondary contact recreation.  I don't recall having encountered any Class C waters in my travels to date.

Some waters are also noted as either High Quality Waters, Outstanding Resource Waters, or Special Resource Waters and receive additional protection. 
Where combined sewer overflows (CSOs) can occur, waters are classified as Partial Use, B (CSO) or SB (CSO).
There is also a Site Specific Criteria (Table 28) that lists levels for total phosphorus, nitrogen, copper and zinc.


The second resource I use is the Massachusetts Year 2014 Integrated List of Waters prepared by the Massachusetts Division of Watershed Management.  States are required to prepare a water quality assessment for submission to the EPA as part of the Clean Water Act.  This list provides a more detailed look at each waterway and classifies them into five categories:
  1. Unimpaired and not threatened for all designated uses (none listed in Mass due to DPH concern for mercury in fish statewide).
  2. Unimpaired for some uses and not assessed for others.
  3. Insufficient information to make assessments for any uses.
  4. Impaired or threatened for one or more uses, but not requiring the calculation of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL); or
  5. Impaired or threatened for one or more use and requiring a TDML.
   Most of the waters I paddle fall into Category 5 while a very few are in Category 2.

Both of these resources use the same 27 zones which makes it possible to combine the water quality aspects listed in both, resulting in a more complete picture as to the waterway's water quality.

For example, when I reference the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards (MSWQS) for the 30 mile stretch of the Assabet River from the Westborough Wastewater Treatment Facility down to the confluence with the Sudbury River, I find it listed as Class B with a "warm water (fishery)" qualification.

However, if I next reference the Massachusetts Year 2014 Integrated List of Waterways (MILW) for the same stretch of the Assabet River I find it classified as Category 5 Waters and further divided into 6 sub-zones.  Each sub-zone has impairment causes listed (i.e. the 6.4 miles from Powdermill Dam down to the confluence with the Sudbury River shows fecal coliform and total phosphorus listed as impairment causes).

Another example would be a section of the Neponset River I recently paddled between Bade Canoe Launch in Norwood and Paul's Bridge in Milton.  The MSWQS shows that section as Class B with a "warm water (fishery)" qualification, whereas the MILW has it as Category 5 Waters and further mentions several impairment causes including bacteria, DDT, and PCBs in fish.

Some segments of waterways show Debris/Floatables/Trash listed as an impairment cause and I have found that to be more than accurate in several instances.

By consulting both resources, paddlers can be forewarned of potential water quality concerns of the waterway they intend to paddle.

It's interesting to note that the most pristine water I've ever paddled in Massachusetts was rated in MSWQS as being Class B with a "cold water (fishery)" qualification, while the MILW rates it as a Category 2 Waters (one of the few Category 2 Waters I've paddled).  It's the Swift River between Quabbin's Windsor Dam and the Bondsville Mill Dam in Belchertown.  Some other Category 2 waters I've paddled were sections of Fort Meadow Brook, Salmon Brook (in Dunstable), Squannacook River, Quabaug River, and Ware River.   

Regarding the river in north central Massachusetts that the commenter referenced, I did find mention of it having a MSWQS rating of Class B with a "warm water (fishery) " qualification while the MILW had it as Category 5 Waters with several impairment causes one of which is PCB in fish tissue.  Perhaps the presence of PCB was the concern of the commenter. 

After all is said and done, I have no illusions that the waters I paddle are pristine.  Given the several centuries of water-use for manufacturing processes in Massachusetts, contamination of one kind or another will be present in our waterways for many years to come.  I'll just do my best to avoid ingesting any of it.  Considering what water quality was 50 years ago, I consider myself fortunate to be able to paddle today's much improved (and continuing to improve) waterways.  So, unless you find yourself "sleep-paddling" on a Class A, Category 1 waterway, your best bet would be to "stay thirsty my friend".
 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Neponset Quietly Flows Along

I've been wanting to return to the upper Neponset River ever since I got my first look at it back in 2014.  This morning I joined Erik and Bill (both of whom commuted past it on Rte. 95 for many years) in paddling an 8 mile section from Bade Canoe Launch in Norwood to Paul's Bridge in Milton.  It was an enjoyable trip with few obstacles having to be dealt with.

The Bade Canoe Launch made an excellent starting point with good access to the river.
Bill and Erik paddled a tandem Mohawk canoe...
The day was a beauty with blue skies and temperatures warming to the low 40s F.
For the most part we were sheltered from the wind, and when we weren't sheltered it was at our back.

The only other boat we saw was this electric powered canoe awaiting its owner...


While the Charles River is considered by many to be the quintessential Massachusetts river perhaps because of its 80 mile long meandering course, it is the Neponset that passes closest to the state's namesake Great Blue Hill (aka Massachusett).  This became evident when we stopped for lunch at Signal Hill.  After hiking to the hill's 188 foot elevation we enjoyed views of Great Blue Hill to the southeast...
...and the Boston skyline to the northeast behind Bill and Erik...


The Signal Hill site is a Trustees of Reservations owned property where canoes can be rented in season.

Near the Amtrak Station in Westwood we passed under the Green Lodge St. bridge...
...and after paddling another few miles through Fowl Meadow we arrived at our takeout, Paul's Bridge at the Neponset Valley Parkway...

It is amazing how serene this river is given its proximity to such an urban area.

For more details as to river levels and put-in/takeout locations check out Erik's account on his blog Open Boat, Moving Water - A Paddler's Journal.

We scooped up what trash we could on the fly...


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Starting with a Clean Crate

Kicked off 2016 (aka Trashpaddling Year 9) yesterday morning on the lower Sudbury River in Concord where conditions had both the look and feel of winter.  Therefore, I'll resume my countdown of the days until spring...only 78 to go.

It wasn't long before the first piece of 2016 flotsam jumped onto my paddle blade...

At Egg Rock I noted that river levels are still rising...
...before entering the Assabet River.

Things were very quiet, almost as quiet as Christmas morning was.  Reaching Willow Island...
...I saw a diving duck which at first glance had me thinking merganser until I heard the unmistakable call of this common loon...
...which is a call I don't often hear on the Assabet River.  I would encounter this same solitary loon later at Egg Rock. When the loon was calling by Willow Island I wondered if any of the vehicles driving by on nearby Lowell Road might hear it.  Probably not likely, unless they were driving with windows down.

After ascending the Assabet to Spencer Brook I returned to Egg Rock and headed down the Concord River to Buttrick's Hill.  Along the way I heard a vocal pair of pileated woodpeckers upstream of the Great Meadows Landing.  The pair seemed to be playing peekaboo on this tree...

After rounding the bend at Buttricks Hill I came upon a scent mound hotspot and noted quite a bit of recent activity.  This one mound showed mud having been applied on top of the recent snowfall...
 
The return trip upriver included a brief stop for hot cocoa at the mouth of Sawmill Brook where this old shed was admired...
If it had a set of deer or moose antlers near the peak along with a Christmas wreath it would make a great Xmas card. 

While no other boaters were seen today there were lots of folks out for a walk in the Great Meadows and Old North Bridge areas.

Such a cloudy, cool, and breezy day created ideal conditions for reflecting back on the past year:

Paddling to Black Rock on the Squannacook last April...

Meeting a friendly loon on Monponsett Pond in April...
...very close to this commemorative rock...


Paddling and hiking to Spirit Falls in Royalston last June...
...and this Pitcher Plant further along on the Tully River...

Finding another commemorative rock located near the Connecticut River's confluence with the Farmington River in Windsor, CT in October...

Finally, my favorite on-water moment of 2015 was on the lower Assabet River while paddling with my granddaughter.  Our goal was to see a deer and we'd got out on the water at daybreak.  A couple of deer were briefly seen in the distance and we were on our way back downriver feeling like "oh well, at least we saw something" when suddenly a doe on the riverbank caught our eye.  The doe allowed my granddaughter to paddle quite close and the two shared several moments of eye to eye contact...

One very friendly doe...


Before I knew it my New Years Day paddle was coming to an end as I found myself approaching a sugar-coated Egg Rock...

... and not long after the first 2016 trash patrol was officially in the books...