My Savage River Blackhawk-owning pal and I were out on the Charles again. We didn't have a lot of time (about two hours-it was Mother's Day)so we decided to take a trip through the Long Ditch, since the water was high enough to get into the LD without a problem. For a little excitement, we put in just below the Cochrane Dam in Dover, after taking a peek at the fast water just below the dam. Post-launch we worked a bit to get around multiple rocks just below the surface. With adrenaline draining away, we paddled on...bypassing a few other convenient put-ins (the usual is in Needham off Route 135). We saw a couple of great blue herons, many geese and many ducks.
The Long Ditch entry is under a small bridge which carries a road from Needham into Dedham. It's on the left of the Charles, shortly after passing (or more correctly underpassing Route 128/I-95), and not hard to miss. The ditch itself was hand-dug in the mid-1600s to allow greater cultivation of hay in the Dedham/Needham area. Going through the LD cuts about six miles off on another-wise very pleasant and interesting trip on the Charles past Dedham and into Newton.
We entered on the left-hand section of the overpass as the right was blocked with limbs and the like. This entry may only really be possible when the water is high, as when it's low, there's a kind-of spillway under the overpass which might prevent entry.
Anyway, once into the LD, the pace slowed a bit, and we passed through a flat area (presumably we were surrounded by the colonial-era hayfields). The LD seemed to be deep...maybe four feet or so, but with steep banks. About 3/4 of a mile through the LD (Surprise!), we encountered a completely blocked waterway...a large tree was down from bank to bank. We were able to get ourselves and the boat out just before the tree on the right-hand side of the LD...then portaged around the tree, putting in about 25 yards North...a very convenient entry point.
Soon we paddled out of the LD, past Millenium Park on the right (another convenient takeout)then on to Newton. The wind was in our face this Sunday, and we worked hard to make the next couple of miles to Nahanton Park in Newton. The wind was so strong and the fetch was so long that the waves on the Charles this day reminded us of some canoe trips in some of the larger lakes of the Adirondacks. Despite the low freeboard of the Savage River, we didn't ship any water over the bow...and besides (hee-hee) I was in the stern.
The Charles from Dedham into Needham, and thence to Dedham is a wide placid river which meanders with wide-radius curves. We've heard that in Colonial times that the area around the river was a favored nesting ground for the long-extinct Passenger Pigeon. I bet on a sunny day, with no wind, this trip would be a languid experience. The sounds of the big road are muffled by the tress, and the signs of civilization are minimal.
We took out at Nahanton Park, where now a floating dock awaits the tired paddler. Exit was very easy here.
This trip is really a trip which could only be undertaken when water is high enough to get through the rocks and rough spots in Dover, and to allow the paddler to actually get into the Long Ditch. This probably means that it's only an early-mid Spring adventure.
This is a trip in a developed suburban area. In Needham there a many places for post-trip refreshments, and remembrances of your recent adventure.
This description is mostly useful in the early to mid Spring, or when the water is high in the Charles. We left a car at the takeout...Nahanton Park in Newton. This takeout is at a park in Newton at the Needham/Newton line, near the JCC. To the put-in in Dover, drive out of the Nahanton Park lot, turning right and heading into Needham. At the first traffic light, turn left, and follow this large street (Greendale Ave) for about a mile, until you reach Needham's Great Plain Avenue (a traffic light is there). Turn right, then take a left on South Street (about 100 yards). Follow South Street for a couple of miles and turn left on Chestnut Street, toward Dover. In Dover, Chestnut Street joins Dedham Street. Follow Dedham Street for about 1 mile, then take a very abrupt right onto Mill Street in Dover. At this point, the Charles River will be on your right, and you'll be able to see if the water level is high enough for a run around and through the rocks. Put-in will be on your right at a parking lot.
We use a map which the Charles River Watershed Association publishes, and is available in outdoor stores around Boston...Charles River Canoe & Kayak, Bob Smith's Wilderness House, REI, AMC and EMS. It's a $10 item, and gives useful and accurate information about the Charles River. It's printed on waterproof paper, and easily fits into one of the pockets on your paddling PFD.