Sunday, March 9, 2014

Good for Fish, Good for Paddlers - Pawcatuck River - Biscuit City to Richmond - March 8, 2014

Jim C. running the Kenyon Dam
There has been a lot of work done on rivers in this area to restore access to migratory fish.  I can think of several trips that I have done in the past few months where dams were removed to improve access.  This includes Pawtuxet Falls Dam on the Lower Pawtuxet River and the Spoonville Dam on the Tville section of the Farmington River.   The removal of these dams has restored miles of free-flowing river habitat to river herring, alewife and shad.  These fish are an important part of the ecosystem, providing food for bluefish, striped bass, largemouth bass, herons, ospreys and many other predators.

Perhaps nowhere has this restoration work been more active than on the Pawcatuck River near the Shannock Village.   At one time, this short section of the river contained three dams that blocked access not just to fish, but to paddlers as well.  With the completion of the new Kenyon Dam, access along this section has improved dramatically. 

Approaching the portage at the Horseshoe Dam
I met up with Jim C. and Jim S. to run the section from Biscuit City Road down to Richmond. The Biscuit City Fishing Area launch site was iced in, so we will put in just downstream on Biscuit City Road. The water level was low, but runnable – 2.75 feet,180 cfs on the Wood River Junction Gage.

Just downstream from the put-in is the new Kenyon Dam. As water flows down this minefield of rocks, you might think you are looking at a natural rapid. An 85-foot-long ramp has been constructed on the downstream side of the dam.  This ramp is made up of five gradually ascending stone weirs, which serve like terraced steps. Gaps were left in the weirs to create channels for the water to flow and the fish to swim, including a main current down the middle that forms a nice channel for paddlers. This main channel is a little tricky with a gradual curve to the right, but we all made it through fine. 

Running the Lower Shannock Falls
From the Kenyon Dam to the Horseshoe Dam in Shannock Village, the river twists and turns through a pretty marshland.  We portaged the Horseshoe Dam on the left, and continued down through some easy rapids to the Lower Shannock Falls.

The dam at the site of what is now the Lower Shannock Falls was removed in 2010.  This rocky section of the river curves gradually to the left before ending in a couple of large drops.  Open boats will often take in water at the bottom, but the rapid can easily be portaged on the right. 

Below the Lower Shannock Falls, the river is a combination of flatwater and easy quick water until you reach the Route 112 Bridge and the Carolina Mill Raceway.  We stopped for lunch and a campfire at the Carolina Canoe Campsite before taking out below the Richmond Dam.  

Taking a break at the Carolina Canoe Campsite


  1. Looks like a true 'win-win' situation. Did this structure replace the original dam, or is placed to the side of it?

  2. The old dam is still there. The ramp and fish weirs were constructed on the downstream side. There is a mill on the site which still relies in the dam for water, and there was concern about contaminated sediments behind the dam if it was removed.