Saturday, October 16, 2021

Norumbega/Skull Rock Lock

This past week found me paddling on two Massachusetts rivers, the Charles River in the vicinity of Norumbega Tower...

...and the Blackstone River above and below Skull Rock Lock in Uxbridge...


  

On Monday, Indigenous Peoples' Day/Marathon Monday I paddled the Charles River to Norumbega Tower after launching at Woerd Ave in Waltham.  It marked the first time I'd ever reached the tower by boat rather than car. The tower was conceived and erected in 1889 by Harvard professor Eben Norton Horsford who was convinced that the Vikings had landed at this very spot at the confluence of the Charles River and Stony Brook.  Most historians don't agree.

Leaving the tower I paddled across the Charles to what remains of the once popular Norumbega Park.  One remnant of the park is this old stairway leading up to a riverside knoll where the park's Summer House once stood...


A former employee of the park, Chip Hayward, created a detailed map of Norumbega Park as it was in 1961.  It can be found here.  The map shows a "Davey Crockett's Nightmare" ride which I want to say was known as "Davey Jones Locker" back when I was a kid 

Leaving the park I continued paddling upriver until I could hear voices shouting encouragement to passing participants in the Boston Marathon as they crossed the Charles on Rt. 16 at Newton Lower Falls...


The trip back to Waltham brought me under a multitude of busy highways, whereas the old Boston and Albany RR bridge maintained a more stately and dignified look...


On Thursday I traveled to the Blackstone River in Uxbridge launching from the Skull Rock Lock access along Route 122...not the easiest place to launch from due to steep and slippery banks.  My hope was to paddle upriver to the confluence of the West and Blackstone rivers.  Things were looking good as I paddled beneath the Providence and Worcester RR bridge...


However, after less than a mile, my upriver progress was stopped by numerous downed trees.  Turned around and headed downriver as far as Millville where the river splits in two at a large rock formation...


Boats traveling to Providence on the Blackstone Canal would leave the river here and pass to the right of the rock.  This would bring them through the Millville Lock.  The route to the left of the rock formation would take one under the Central Street Bridge and through some rapids...


This was another turnaround point where I began the slower trip back upriver...



For most of the approximately 2.5 mile return trip upriver I found myself hugging the river's west shore...not knowing at the time that I was actually paddling a river section of the Blackstone Canal.

Shortly after passing Emerson Brook I came to where Worcester bound canal boats would leave the river and enter Skull Rock Lock.  Hard to make out the stone walls with all the debris.

Back at the Skull Rock Lock parking area there's scant information as to the lock's actual location.  The maps I had with me either didn't show the lock or showed it in a place where it wasn't.  I'd later find a 2005 Blackstone Canal Preservation Study by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc of the portion of the canal in Massachusetts.  There I found the following: "The Canal enters Uxbridge in the Ironstone section of South Uxbridge with the Canal running in the river and the towpath along the west bank.  The Canal continues along the west bank of the river for approximately 2.2 miles with many sections of the towpath embankment visible, especially north of the power line easement crossing...approximately 0.2 miles above Emerson Brook, the Canal leaves the river and enters a long trenched section with the towpath on the east side, running to South Main Street/Route 122.  The site of Lock #22 (Skull Rock Lock) marks the downriver entrance to this section of the Canal, and is visible primarily as a narrowing of the Canal channel.  Skull Rock Bridge is located 0.1 mile above Lock #22.

Ultimately, I came across an 1830 map of Uxbridge by Abiel Jaques on the digital archives of Massachusetts maintained by the Secretary of State.  This map, drawn when the Blackstone Canal was still in operation, shows the Canal leaving the river above Emerson Brook and then passing under Skull Rock Road (which no longer exists). This road also crossed the Blackstone River where it comes closest to Old Millville Road.  One of the bridge abutments remains on the river's west side...


In the event the link to the 1830 map doesn't work, here's a photo of the map showing the Skull Rock Lock section with my (hopefully correct) notations...




Wildlife seen this week included this wood duck on the Charles...


...and this Osprey near the confluence of the Charles and Stony Brook...


Trash for Monday...


Trash for Thursday...



Saturday, October 9, 2021

A Week Ending Well

 

On Friday morning my paddling week ended on a high note (and high water level) when paddling on Fairhaven Bay in Concord, MA (above photo).

The week started last Sunday with this view of the Egg Rock inscription...

...seen in its entirety which during this wet year has been the exception rather than the rule.

The dip in water level was short-lived as another two-day soaking with about 3 inches of rain soon had water levels on the rise again.  On Tuesday morning I paddled the Nashua River in Harvard, MA...


The section upriver of the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge I've found to be one of the most trash plagued stretches.  Rafts of trash such as the one pictured below are frequent...


The Oxbow N.W.R. launch in Harvard, MA is about 6 miles downriver from the confluence of the Nashua's north and south branches.  Some of the more populated communities upriver include Clinton (on the South Branch) and Fitchburg and Leominster (both on the North Branch).  So far this calendar year I've launched from the Oxbow in Harvard 9 times and recovered more than 700 "nip" bottles.  In addition to this stretch of river's strange attraction for "nip" bottles is its equally strange attraction for huge amounts of repellent-resistant mosquitos. It's almost like a Bermuda Triangle thing.  If you go, bring a head net!

This capsized small fishing boat was also hanging around...

...with a hole in its stern corner.

Friday morning I enjoyed superb paddling conditions on the Sudbury River having launched from the Lincoln Canoe Launch.  The little stone boat house in Fairhaven Bay...


A mirror image of a spider's intricate work in Well Meadow just off of Fairhaven Bay...


A paddle upriver to Pantry Brook was made and the passage over the sheet-piling dam was doable...

...with a running start.  The Pantry Brook Wildlife Management Area lies beyond.


On the trip back downriver Lee's Bridge reminded me of its historic placement...

Trash for the week included:

Sunday's...


Tuesday's (which included 140 "nip" bottles)...


Friday's...



Saturday, October 2, 2021

Wilgus...Just the Ticket!


Had a hankerin' to get in one more 2021 camping trip.  The ideal campground I envisioned would have riverside tent sites, easy boat access, and miles of navigable water in both directions-a place where my car would only serve as a food storage unit.  All of my expectations were met at Wilgus State Park in Weathersfield, Vermont...

The park was created in the 1930's after Colonel and Mrs. William Wilgus gave the property to the State of Vermont.  Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps the facility today includes 15 campsites, 6 lean-to shelters, 4 cabins, and a group camping area. I found things clean and well maintained by a friendly and helpful staff.

My campsite...
...and the nearby path to the river...



However, before arriving at Wilgus State Park on Monday I stopped in Cornish, NH...
...and paddled about 3 miles upriver to Hart Island, said to be the halfway point on the 410 mile-long Connecticut River...

Just below Hart Island is the Burnham Meadow Campsite which had seen a good amount of damage from fallen trees.  Very close by is a "Path of Life Sculpture Garden"...

...and some interesting exhibits...

A pair of adult eagles watched over from an ideal vantage point...

Heading back downriver the day's sporadic showers became a little steadier and I anticipated setting up camp in the rain.  Fortunately Wilgus State Park, while only about 6 miles away, was found nice and dry.


On Tuesday morning, following my first night in camp, I paddled upriver to Chase Island arriving just in time to observe Amtrak's southbound Vermonter make its noontime crossing of the river...
...on its way to Washington D.C. from St. Albans, VT.  Just a short distance further upriver is the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge...
...said to be the longest wooden bridge in the country.  While there, a work barge was seen being pushed across the river...
...indicating the historic bridge was possibly getting some TLC.

Returning downriver an eagle was seen just upriver from the campground...

This floating balloon made me feel right at home...


The next day, Wednesday, I paddled downriver (opening photo) to Jarvis Island and Ashley Ferry.  Both of these locations are at the Weathersfield Bow where the river bends sharply from south to east to southwest.  Jarvis Island...

...and an immature eagle at its south end...
I believe the island is named for William Jarvis, a gentleman farmer and former consul to Portugal, appointed by President Jefferson.  He introduced merino sheep (from Spain) to Vermont in 1811, perhaps having brought them across the river to his Weathersfield Bow farm via the Ashley Ferry (the ferry's landing on the New Hampshire side pictured below)...

A weathervane seen upriver of the Weathersfield Bow may have depicted one of these merino sheep...


After a third night at Wilgus I left on Thursday morning and drove about 10 miles south to Hoyt's Landing in Springfield, VT.  Here again another eagle watched over the landing from a small island at the mouth of the Black River...

 
My plan was to paddle the Connecticut over to the Fort at # 4. but finding the Fort wasn't as easy as I expected.  After scouring the river's east side for more than a mile, I couldn't locate the Fort from the water.  The closest I got to it was this concrete stairway...
...leading to the Fort's next door neighbor, Patch Park.  Close but no cigar.

While paddling back to Hoyt's Landing I enjoyed a final glimpse of Mt. Ascutney...


Back at the landing I loaded my boat for the trip home while reflecting on some of the creatures I saw on the river.  In addition to eagles seen every day, there were blue herons, a great egret, kingfishers, mergansers, cormorants, and this freshwater clam forging his own unique path...

 Also came across this fungal growth upon a tree...

...a type I'd never seen before.

Also a little unusual was this stone staff gage seen near Barber Mountain...



Trash encountered along the several sections paddled...
Note the soaker water gun...that still packs a wallop.

Upon leaving Vermont I drove across the river into Charlestown, New Hampshire and stopped at the Fort at # 4...

...where I had a chance to look around.  A large map is encountered in the north entrance which shows much of New England, eastern New York state, and southeastern Canada without political boundaries.  All waterways, topography, major trails, and settlements are shown.  It provides a very different and interesting perspective.

From the Fort's watchtower...
...I was able to view the river through the trees...

...and get this unobstructed view of the Fort looking up from the tree-lined riverbank...

While visiting the Fort I would learn from a staff member that the actual Fort at # 4 was located about a mile to the south and that the fort was not built as a military installation as were Fort Dummer and Fort Massachusetts, but instead was built as a civilian fort around 1743.  Its location near the confluence of the Connecticut and Black rivers and the trail leading to Crown Point on Lake Champlain must have made it an ideal place for trade between English settlers and Native Americans.