Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Public Access to Assabet River

Automated river depth and flow gauge,
Assabet River, Maynard, MA (2010 flood)
Addresses public access to the Assabet River in Maynard, MA. Includes a kayaker's description.

For all that the Assabet River runs through the center of Maynard, crossed by seven bridges, public access points - meaning places where it is possible to sit or stand by the riverbank, and if so desired, do some fishing, wade into the river or launch a canoe or kayak - are scarce.

Passage through Maynard starts at the White Pond Road Bridge on the Maynard:Stow border and ends at Ripple Pond, which is the name of the body of water backed up by the dam next to Route 62, in Acton. This portion, some 2.5 miles long, offers a mix of flat and flowing water ranging from placid to exciting and potentially dangerous.

Upstream of the Ben Smith Dam provides five miles of flat water. Boaters' access in Maynard is at Ice House Landing and at White Pond Bridge. The former is near the Department of Public Works, on Winter Street, and offers a few parking places and a short portage to the shore, where it is possible to put in a canoe or kayak. The latter has space to put in a small boat off a trailer, but parking is problematic. Between, there are good views of the water from Track Road, on the south side, but the shoreline is steep and brushy. Farther upstream but still part of the same flat water is a put-in in Stow, at Sudbury Road.

Downstream from the Ben Smith Dam there are views from the bridges and along Walnut Street, but no accessible shoreline on town property other than a short stretch in Tobin Park, by the footbridge, and then much farther east, from a trail that descends from Concord Street.

Kayaker working the rapids upriver from Main Street, Maynard, MA
Maynard owns or is about to own or can consider owning land that could provide much more river access. Construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail will include a larger parking lot at Ice House Landing. The town could improve the put-in.

A private parking lot at the back of Millpond Square provides access below the dam. The town could look into purchasing part of the lot. There is an easy 80 yard portage to a put-in place. The same concept would hold true for buying part of the parking lot at the Elks Lodge, as either a takeout for river runners or a put in for Ripple Pond. Between, the town already owns land behind the Town Building and is in the process of buying riverside land at the end of a small parking lot on River Street. These two sites have a steep bank from shore to river, so not ideal for boating or fishing access, but could become attractive viewing areas.

Lastly, the river border from Main Street to the footbridge (adjacent to the Gruber Bros. Furniture building, currently an overgrown mess of poison ivy and bittersweet) could be improved to include a boardwalk, benches, small tables, plantings, bicycle rack, informational kiosk, water fountain, a cart selling Italian ices, live music…
All this harping on access, access, access begs the question – is it really possible to boat through the center of Maynard on the Assabet River? Safe? Legal? As noted, upstream of the Ben Smith Dam is flat water, so boating is possible, safe and legal. Through town, the criteria are deep enough to float a boat but no so high as to risk hitting the undersides of bridges. A gauge located behind Tedeschi Food Shops provides on-line information on depth and flow rate, findable via internet search on the terms USGS ASSABET followed by selection of the one that has “Current Conditions” in the description.
Pipe under Mill Street Bridge reduces clearance (flood, March 2010)
From talking to experienced boaters, a depth at the gauge between 3.0 and 4.0 feet floats a boat through Maynard and provides for stretches of Class I-II rapids. Approaching 5.0 feet the bridges become dangerous. The river gets faster. At 2.0 feet the flow is 100 cubic feet per second, increasing to 600 cfs at 4.0 feet and 1200 cfs at 5.0 feet.
As for legal, the Massachusetts River Protection Act extends state control to “Any river or stream that is a naturally flowing body of water that empties into any ocean, lake, or other river and that flows throughout the year.” Recreational activities are allowed, keeping in mind that all the scrap metal and broken glass make barefoot wading unadvisable. 

One experienced kayaker's description of running the center of town when water was 4' deep: 
  • Great Road Bridge – ran to the right through a 2’ drop
  • Mill Street Bridge – ran through the center, but the right arch is also an option [August 2015: just downstream of center there are large tree trunks hung up on larger rocks]
  • Florida Road Bridge – flatwater under the bridge, but there are some nice waves just downstream
  • Main Street Bridge – some easy waves leading up to it, but it can be run anywhere
  • Walnut Street Bridge – fast moving current under the bridges pushes right, some nice wave below the bridge
  • Waltham Street Bridge – ran in the middle since the left and right arches were blocked by construction steel [note: this was the old bridge; the new bridge is a single span]