Exploring the Blackstone River - A Guide

by Jeff Hickson of Wild Bird Gardens

Photography by Michael Castagnaro

Welcome to the Blackstone River Guide which will be a twelve part series exploring various access points to the Blackstone River. This guide is to help you with your adventure on the Blackstone River. This 44 mile long river extends from deep under the heart of Worcester, Massachusetts to the tidal flows of the Seekonk River in Providence, R.I. at the coast. There is magnificent scenery rivaling anything in the Northeast as well as history, peace and adventure to be found.

With each issue, we will present a short guide to a different section of the Blackstone River. These are excerpts from an upcoming guidebook. In each guided section, we will advise you of access, river conditions, obstacles and points of interest. It will also be GPS (Global Positioning System) compatible for those of you with this equipment.

There is some experience and caution required for the Blackstone River and its access. The sections will be rated from 1) Beginner - requiring little experience encompassing mostly flatwater paddling to 2) Intermediate - requiring experience in fast moving water and understanding of the classes of whitewater to 3) Expert - requiring experience in whitewater, rescue equipment and good physical condition. The access may be listed as private or public. With public access, there will be parking on public property with access to the river. When a site is listed as private, you must respect the rights of the property owner. You should A) Ask permission to use their property and respect their right to deny it and B) Leave their property cleaner than when you arrived and C) respect the rights of others who use the property for business. (Do not block access to parking spaces, loading docks or equipment that could be used while you are enjoying your trip.) Understand that they are allowing use of their property and if you should cause a problem, they might close the property to every Blackstone River enthusiast.

Respect the river, respect the property and PADDLE SAFE!

We'll start at Section 2, although there is a section in Worcester (to be discussed in another series).

Start: Rte 146, North Main Street, Millbury, MA - 42 degrees 12.088 N 071 degrees 46.447W

Access: Public at Bikeway Parking

End: Riverlin Street, Millbury, MA 42 degrees 11.556N 071 degrees 45.141W

Access: Private - Goretti's Market and abutting roads

Length of Trip: Approximately 3 miles

Duration: 1 1/2 to 3 hours

Experienced Required: Intermediate to Expert

Special Conditions: Rocky obstructed whitewater up to Level III, changes with water level. Extreme caution should be taken and boats portaged around whitewater section if conditions and/or experience level should warrant it.

Guide: This section of the river is one of my favorites. With 25 years (or more when I admit it) of experience, I find this section a challenge for my skills. I have been known to run the whitewater section five times in a row carrying my boat back to the top of the rapids and starting again just for the fun of it! The key words here, though, are 25 years of experience and challenging. The whitewater here at high flow conditions are not for the timid or inexperienced. I recommend that you fully check out the rapids from shore before you decide if you will run them or portage around them. As always with whitewater, if you can hear it, pull over and walk it before deciding if you can run it.

Your access is off the bikeway parking, just follow the bikepath north a few hundred feet and walk down through a sloping meadow to your left to an easy put in on a gravel bank. The quickly moving water here advises you that adventure is ahead! Head south and you are quickly surrounded by nature. Civilization recedes and your soul expands as the surroundings tell you to relax. Fifteen to twenty minutes south, you will encounter your first section of Class II whitewater about 100 yards long. This will give you a taste of what's to come. Pay attention because you will pass an historic nineteenth century mill on your left opposite a cemetery on your right. A bridge has recently been removed here. If you have done this section before, make note of how the shape and flow of the river has slightly changed. Location: 42 degrees 11.680N 071 degrees 45.954W

Paddle on and you will soon come to an old railroad trestle. There are several openings in it. You must check to see which one is unobstructed. Do this every time you paddle through here and do not trust your memory. High flows could clear or create obstructions where they were not before. After the trestle, you will soon be entering the most difficult section of this trip. The water starts to speed up and typical New England granite starts to show. If you are fiberglass, Kevlar or composite boat owner and do not wish to scratch your boat, this is not where you want to be!

The river falls quickly here, remember to portage to your right if you need to avoid the whitewater. The sighting of the South Main Street Bridge tells you that the most difficult section is upon you and that whitewater is almost over. Extreme caution is advised here. During high flows in spring, I have seen hydraulics rising 6 feet or more. With granite outcroppings and concrete abutments, expert skills are required with proper gear.

After the rapids under the bridge, it is an easy paddle. Pass under Providence Road (Rte 122) bridge and take out before the Riverlin Street bridge. You will be at or near Goretti's Market (on your right). This locally owned store has plenty of prepared foods to take care of your after paddling hunger. You can also walk uptown to the many small restaurants thriving in this scenic community. PADDLE SAFE!

Copyright 2004. No duplication without express permission of author.