Thursday, October 8, 2015

Paddlin' to Camp Titicut

Yesterday with an absolutely splendid fall day in the offing I had the good fortune to have the day off.  With a desire to explore some new waters, I began the process of selecting a paddling destination and found most of my options to somehow involve waterways under the control of dams.  Then I recalled that Massachusetts is home to the longest coastal river in New England without a dam and also designated as Wild and Scenic...the almost 40 mile long Taunton River in the southeastern part of the state.  On the Taunton I could paddle a river controlled not by man, but by nature.

A quick check on Google brought me to the Taunton River Watershed Association's website where their "Paddling Maps and Resources" section contained links to the Rhode Island Blueways.  There I found an excellent list and detailed description of boat launches.  Shortly, I'd selected the South Street East bridge launch site in Raynham which would allow me to paddle 5 miles upriver to Camp Titicut in Bridgewater where considerable evidence of long term use by Native Americans has been documented.  By the way, Titicut (or Ketiticut) is said in Lithgow's Native American Place Names of Massachusetts to be the Native American name for the river and means "at the great river".  It is very similar to the Native American name for the not too distant Blackstone River (Kittituck) which is explained as meaning "great or principle river".

Once launched and on the river my only concern was to steer clear of submerged rocks and hope the mid-day low tide wouldn't leave me high and dry.  The trip upriver alternated between calm and scenic sections such as this...
...and shallower sections littered with boulders such as in the opening photo or here...

It was hard to know if the tide was having much of an effect this far (23 miles up from the river's mouth).  I passed under Church Street, then Route 44, and finally Route 495 before reaching the sharp bend in the river where Camp Titicut is located.  Along the way I encountered a red-tailed hawk, belted kingfisher, and this swimming water snake...

The river in this stretch has a very rural feel with few buildings in sight.  One exception was this classic New England church steeple...

Camp Titicut is located where the river flowing downstream in a northwesterly direction is forced by a high embankment to swing sharply to the south.  I beached my boat at the apex of the turn...
...and hiked up what looked like a ravine...

At the top of the slope I came upon this idyllic meadow which has more than likely afforded many folks a good night's slumber...
Camping is allowed by permit to paddlers traveling the Wampanoag Canoe Passage and this spot is listed as a suggested stopover at the end of section 2.


After enjoying my visit there, I re-launched my boat and ventured another quarter mile or so up to the Vernon Street bridge where very shallow conditions convinced me to turnabout and begin my trip back downstream...
...to my takeout site at South Street East...

Trash acquired along the way...

Once home I found more historical information concerning Camp Titicut on the Taunton River Stewardship Council's website.  In addition to listing the many artifacts found there is a discussion about the morphological characteristics of bodies buried there.  One bit that caught my eye was this: "The long bones in this group reveal their mode of life...muscular attachments of the upper limbs were strong while those of the lower extremities were weaker.  This kind of musculature is to be expected in a people who prefer to travel by boat rather than on foot".  After reading this I quickly looked down at my own lower extremities to see if they'd shrunk!

Another activity that occurred at Camp Titicut in the 1800s was shipbuilding which is a little hard for me to wrap my head around given the shallow and rocky nature of the river.  According to the same website 40 ton brigs were built there and floated (mastless) down river.  However the site continues to say that shipbuilding came to an end when a dam was built near King's Bridge...but I thought there were no dams on the Taunton River due to it's very slight drop of only 20 feet in 40 miles, and where the heck was King's Bridge anyways?  My search for the answer as to the location of King's Bridge and the dam brought me to find that King's Bridge was near or at Squawbetty Village, wherever that was.  Thankfully, I finally stumbled upon this Raynham Reconnaissance report which provided the answers:
Squawbetty Village is now known as East Taunton and King's Bridge was the very bridge I launched from yesterday at South Street East in Raynham.  In fact I launched my boat very close to where a dam once stood for almost 100 years.  Built in the 1800s it was washed away by floodwaters in 1945.  While it existed there were canals on both the Taunton and Raynham sides of the river.  There were also rules forbidding the taking of herring within 1.5 miles either side of the dam as I'm guessing the herring would congregate in large numbers there when impeded by the dam.

Perhaps on my next visit to the Taunton River I'll head downriver from South Street East (aka King's Bridge) and let the river bring me within a mile of the proposed Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino First Light Resort.

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