Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lower Pawtuxet - November 16, 2013

Sign at the Broad Street Bridge
Much like the Blackstone, the Pawtuxet is a fascinating river that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention.  Maybe it is because it runs along two major highways (Route 37 and Route I-95) through one of the most congested parts of the state.  Maybe it is because of the dams that can make paddling this river a challenge.  Maybe it is because of water quality issues - at least in the lower reaches of the river.  Whatever the reason, even I have been guilty of ignoring this hidden gem.  That changed yesterday when I paddled the Lower Pawtuxet with Jeff and Eric.

We decided to paddle the section from the Pontiac Canoe Launch at the Howard Conservation Area on Knight Street to Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in the Pawtuxet Village.  Pawtuxet Village was established in 1638 – just two years after Roger Williams founded Providence.  Settlers were attracted to this location for it’s sheltered harbor and for the waterpower available from the Pawtuxet Falls.  The Native American term "pawtuxet" means "little falls". 
Rhodes on the Pawtuxet at the put-in
The Pawtuxet River is formed by the confluence of North and South branches of the Pawtuxet, which merge in West Warwick.  From there it then runs approximately 12 miles until it empties into Narragansett Bay at the Pawtuxet Cove.  The last three miles of the river form the boundary between Cranston and Warwick. Access on the river has improved dramatically in recent years thanks to the great work of the Pawtuxet River Authority and Watershed Council.

We put in at the Pontiac Canoe Launch and paddled upstream to the old Pontiac Mill complex. At one time, this mill was owned Robert and Benjamin Knight who operated under the brand name “Fruit of the Loom”.  During the Civil War it was used to manufacture uniforms for Union soldiers.  In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln visited the site to dedicate a new addition.  Like many old mills, it has now fallen into disrepair.  The river was low – 3.8 feet, 140 cfs on the Cranston gage – but Jeff and I took advantage of the opportunity to do a little surfing below the Pontiac Mill Dam. 

Pontiac Mill Complex
As we headed downstream, the river follows Route I-95 for much of it course.  In spite of the traffic noise, this is a pretty section of river.  The banks are lined with trees, and wildlife is abundant.   On this trip we saw 5 deer, including a 6-point buck.  Birds were also plentiful including an owl, a falcon, and lots of ducks, geese and herons.

Evidence of the massive flood of 2010 is also evident along this section of the river. On March 31, 2010, the Pawtuxet River crested at 21 feet (11 feet over flood stage) causing the worst flooding in over 200 years.  Sections of Route I-95 were closed, and the Warwick Mall and many nearby home were inundated. On the river, downed trees and large piles of debris are evidence of the power of this massive flood. 

Broad Street Bridge
As we approached the take-out at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, we decided to continue downstream to the Broad Street Bridge and the site of the old Pawtuxet Falls Dam.  In the summer of 2011, the old Pawtuxet Falls Dam was demolished in one of the largest dam removal projects in the state.  The removal of the dam restored seven miles of free-flowing river habitat to one of Narragansett Bay’s largest tributaries. It is hoped that this will allow the restoration of native migratory fish to the river such as river herring and American shad.  Herring and shad are important part of the ecosystem, providing food for bluefish, striped bass, largemouth bass, herons, ospreys and many other predators—even harbor seals, which winter in the Bay.

Unfortunately, it was low tide when we arrived at the falls, and without cold-water gear, none of us felt comfortable running the 3-foot drop below the Broad Street Bridge.  Instead, we decided to head back to the take-out, and enjoy lunch at one of the near by restaurants in the village. Still, it was a great trip, and in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger – I’ll be back!

Surfing at the Pontiac Mills
Links:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your discovery of this river. Looks and sounds like a nice one to experience.

    ReplyDelete