The Concord River
Scenic Class IV Canoeing into Downtown Lowell
From the May 1998 WrapAround
Click on the photos to see larger images
To many, the Concord River is a symbol of placid flatwater canoeing as it runs from the confluence of the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers in Concord under the Old North Bridge in a northerly direction to Lowell. In Lowell, the Concord’s character changes abruptly at a dam into a Class III/IV river.
The put in is just below the dam from an old railroad bed that is now a power line right of way. We climbed down a steep embankment to put in at the base of the rock wall lining the river. A gentle push from me as I tried to get out of the way, sent Mimi into the river, much to my embarrassment. We paddled up to the base of the dam which only has a head of about 4 feet. Once we were all launched we headed down the river through some easy class II rapids. Although the river is lined with old stone walls on both sides the overhanging trees make if quite pretty. An old building is built out about 12’ feet into the river. I took the opportunity to paddle though this short “tunnel” and to see the swallows' nests.
This section approaches the “Twisted Sister” rapid that is best scouted prior to the right from river right. I canceled a March trip when I saw that this rapid had two keeper holes when the river was running at a gage of 7.0. At the 5.85 level we paddled on this trip, Twisted Sister has to be run starting on river left, making an eddy on river right to bail, and then down two drops over to river left.
The river widens out as we paddle under the bridge to “Straight Shot,” a big water rapid that is one of the best roller coaster rides I’ve been on. It can no longer be scouted prior to the trip because of fencing installed after the Prince shutdown. We paddled to shore and scouted it from river right.
Straight Shot is what its name implies, a straight run through several big waves into a large pool below. After an apprehensive first run ending with a full boat, we carried the boats back upstream to paddle it again. This time we paddled with far less water in the boats and a lot less apprehension. A local, out for his quiet afternoon beer, watched us in amazement. He said the area had been fenced off because of two drug overdoses. We each took our turn running the rapid, thoroughly enjoying it as we knew there were no rocks and a nice pool awaiting us after the final drop.
Although a big rapid, Straight Shot is exciting and at the same time relatively safe in that it drops into a big pool at the end. This pool leads down some flat water and quick water to the rapids above the lower dam. In that stretch we saw cormorants, a great blue heron, mergansers, mallards with ten ducklings and a beaver.
The broken dam is the last big rapid and must be scouted before running it. There is a nice take out on river right for those choosing not to run this rapid. Due to obstacles in the dam, it must be run in a close slot on river right.
Prior to paddling, this should be scouted. It is a class IV scout, requiring squeezing through a break in a chain link fence, walking an I-beam across the old locks, and then walking over the end of the old dam. The drop is a short but drops about 12 feet.
Each of us had misgivings. I wasn’t going to run it, but after seeing Skip, Tom, and Mimi run it I decided to. Mimi hit something at the bottom and damaged Skip’s canoe. When I ran it, I was too far to the left, hitting the rock and was instantly swimming.
After the dam Tom and I paddled down to look at the Pawtucket Canal locks. These locks look huge when viewed from the unique perspective of the river.
The group played in a play hole just above the take out. We finally hauled the boats up the embankment and into the parking lot. After scouting the Lowell rapids on the Merrimack River we ate a very late lunch at a Chinese restaurant, foregoing the many fine ethnic restaurants in Lowell due to the late hour. We all promised to return.
Thinking of a River Clean Up …
I think this is a great river and started thinking what could be done to improve it and make it better for paddlers. I am seriously considering trying to organize a cleanup of the lower dam during this summer’s dry spell. There are timbers and bolts in the bottom of the dam that if removed would make the running the dam much safer and exciting at the same time. If anyone can tell me how to go about organizing such a cleanup I would appreciate having them contact me. If you would like to help, so much the better. We may be able to convert the Concord into a world class Urban river.
The Concord has a lot to offer: great rapids, short travel time, great natural scenery along with a look into the development of the industrial revolution. It has a National Park along with vineyards right on the riverbank. There is a lot of currently undeveloped land along the river.
… and just to prove all of us ran the lower dam …