Monday, October 21, 2013

Mt. Wachusett, Swift and Conn. Rivers

Driving home from the Connecticut River on Route 2 last night, and watching the "Hunters Moon" rise in the eastern sky ahead, I reflected on three nice days of exploring more nooks and crannies within my home state of Massachusetts.
Things got started in a way due to my having crossed the path, so to speak, of Mary Rowlandson while paddling the Millers River in Athol and Orange last week.  A large rock in the river called Rowlandson Rock is said to mark the spot where she and the large group of Native Americans who held her captive crossed the river in their journey to Northfield and the Connecticut River.  They would ultimately journey back east to Wachusett Mountain where her captivity came to an end at an even larger rock, called Redemption Rock, which Mrs. Trashpaddler and I visited this past Friday...
The inscription reads: Upon this rock May 2nd 1676 was made the agreement for the ransom of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson of Lancaster between the Indians and John Hoar of Concord.  King Philip was with the Indians but refused his consent.

Since it was a nice warm day, and realizing that we'd never been to the top of nearby Mt. Wachusett, we soon found ourselves hiking up the Pine Hill Trail to the 2000' high summit where we drank in a commanding 360 degree view.  To the east could be seen John Winthrop's "City on a Hill" aka Boston...

The next day, Saturday, found my boat and me heading west of Wachusett to the Swift River Valley at Cold Spring Road in Belchertown...
After launching on a cloudy but warm afternoon, I paddled upriver towards the flooded valleys of the Swift River's three branches: West, Middle, and East.  Damming the Swift River in the 1930's created Quabbin Reservoir which was needed to quench the thirst of that same "City on a Hill". 

Along the way I passed these remnants of the so-called "Rabbit Line" railroad which followed the Swift River Valley in connecting Springfield and Athol prior to Quabbin's creation long ago...

After passing a fisherman, I began to note how incredibly clear the water was and that numerous rainbow trout could be seen swimming (sometimes alongside my boat's bow).  The view upriver inspired me to paddle on...
...which I did until a little past Cady Lane where shallow/swifter water, a fellow fly-fishing, and approaching twilight turned me back downriver.  The spot was a mile or two below Quabbin Reservoir in the vicinity of the Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area and the state's McLaughlin Fish Hatchery. 

What remains of the Swift River today emanates from deep below the surface of Quabbin Reservoir and apparently provides an ideal environment for trout and those who enjoy catching and releasing them.  However there is controversy regarding this section of the Swift River above and below Cold Spring Road where the river is backed-up by an old dam in Palmer built back around 1900.  Apparently the dam needs to be either repaired or removed and the cost is considerable for each option.  Signs such as this one were numerous on and off the water...


 I was a bit surprised to find this much trash in less than a two mile stretch of this beautiful river...
There were 18 recyclable containers (6 redeemable) and 13 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish.

Leaving the Swift River, at dusk, I headed further west to Holyoke and spent the night within sight of the Connecticut River.

Early the next morning, Sunday, I met up with my good friend Capt'n Dangerous who'd journeyed down from Adirondack Pirate Paddler country to join me in paddling another section of the mighty Connecticut River.  We started in Sunderland at Rt. 116 just across the river from Mt. Sugarloaf where we'd left off last June...
...and headed downriver under sunny skies and a blustery breeze out of the west.

Below Hatfield the river swings to the west and we slogged for 2 miles into that blustery wind.  Our reward was found waiting where the river's next bend provided shelter...

At Elwell Island State Park we paused for lunch under the old Central Mass RR bridge...
 
The bridge is now used to carry the Norwottuck Rail Trail over the river, though temporarily closed for repairs.  Route 9 is just beyond.

Downriver the Holyoke Range of hills loomed...
 
 
Atop Mt. Holyoke sits the Summit House now part of the J.A. Skinner State Park...
 
 
On the west side of the river were Mt. Nonotuck and the Mt. Tom coal-fueled generating station which, by the way, didn't appear to be operating...
 
 
Another few miles and Rt. 202 and the Holyoke Dam finally came into view...
 
 
Our takeout point was on the river's east side at South Hadley Canal Park.  In subsequent reading I learned that the South Hadley Canal was one of this country's earliest canals, dating back to the late 1700's and for awhile used an "Inclined Plane" technique to raise boats around South Hadley Falls where the river dropped some 50' in elevation.  A good description of this interesting technique can be found at the provided link.
 
Very little trash was encountered on this section of river.  Only a lucky 7...
 
Due to the river's water level receding (dam release?) we needed to cross 30' of mud to reach the shore.  By now it was 5 pm and we'd added another 24 miles of the Connecticut River bringing our total to 110 miles or about a quarter of the river's 400 mile length.
 
After the reverse shuttle, darkness was rapidly closing in.  The Capt'n headed to the north and west and I back to the east and that good moon rising.  




5 comments:

PenobscotPaddles said...

Yea, I guess it was called Redemption Rock. Glad you got to the top of Wachusetts on a clear day, it has some amazing views. There used to be goldfish in the pond at the top.

Suasco Al said...

PenobscotPaddles, Thanks for your earlier mentioning of this other rock (Redemption) named for Rowlandson. The site is nicely maintained by the Trustees of Reservations and easily accessed from Rt. 140.

Anonymous said...

Great to see you getting out to some new areas. I worked as an engineer at Quabbin for a couple years. I have been waiting for you to check out the Swift. That water is beautiful, nearly 100% discharge from the Quabbin. It has a pretty aqua tinge to it. I always like seeing places I’ve been a million times but from the viewpoint of your camera.
That controversial dam on the Swift is the Bondsville Dam. It’s a beautiful granite block mill dam (Boston Duck Company). There is a matching dam about a half mile downstream as well. Care and maintenance of a dam is not cheap. No one wants to own that dam, yet everyone enjoys the upstream water body. It has been the location of at least one fatal accident and is a nightmare when Quabbin is spilling water.
As far as the Connecticut River water receding. That could be due to that power plant upstream pumping water up to the reservoir on the hill top (Northfield Mountain. That's just my guess, the timing seems off though as they pump at night during off peak hours.

Suasco Al said...

Anonymous, Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the Swift River and the present dam controversy. I guess it would be fair to say there is considerable liability in owning and maintaining a dam.
Now I know why a 1893 map showed the upper dam area as "Duckville".
In the future I hope to explore the Swift between the lower dam and where it joins with the Ware River.
Also your suggestion of water being pumped to Northfield Mtn. does make sense. I'd walked down to the takeout at S. Hadley Canal Park early that morning and the water was only a foot or two from the river bank. Nine hours later it looked like low tide.

Mike said...

Spectacular photo of a Bald Eagle! I've spotted a few of these magnificent birds during my paddling adventures, but always from a long distance away.