Concord - City of Lowell to Merrimack River


Concord, Massachusetts, US

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City of Lowell to Merrimack River

Usual Difficulty III+(IV) (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 35 fpm
Max Gradient 45 fpm

Dropping down the right edge of
Middlesex Dam


Dropping down the right edge of
Middlesex Dam

Photo of Joe Fiala
by Rhonda Regan

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
CONCORD R BELOW R MEADOW BROOK, AT LOWELL, MA
usgs-01099500 400 - 6000 cfs III+(IV) 01h00m 873 cfs (running)


River Description

The Concord runs through the heart of downtown Lowell. While the area is highly urbanized, the city is hidden from the river by trees and thick greenery. As a result this is an attractive run even though it runs thru the heart of the city.

The Concord river has been modified, damed, and diverted into canals for hundreds of years. Most of the dams and canals have washed out or filled since the mid-20'th century, but a small hydro facility (operated by Centennial Island Hydro) was built on a 19'th century era diversion canal in the early 1980's. This newer project in the upper section diverts some of the flow from the put-in to just past Twisted Sister. The hydro facility can be seen just past Twisted Sister on the left.

Of special interest is the U.S. National Park devoted to the canal system. With special arrangement, paddlers are allowed to make use of the locks below the last rapid. Thus allowing one to use the power of the river to float oneself up to a canal for an easy paddle to your car.

The river has also been narrowed over time in an effort to gain more real estate. Therefore it does not require as much water to run as it was in its natural state. The river also has a huge watershed, encircling the towns enclosed by Westford, Shrewsbury, Hopkinton, Wayland and Bedford (36 towns total). This results in a very long boating season; the river should be runnable from late Fall and Winter (after a moderate rain) thru the spring (usually into June). The large number of wetlands, swamps, and dams in the watershed also delay the effect of rain and act as a big sponge. There is usually water for a couple weeks after any substantial amount of rain. Additionally the southern New England location close to the coast means the river is usually boatable throughout the winter and early spring.

The whitewater section has only four "named" drops or rapids, however it is packed with numerous surfing and play spots. Boaters can (and do) spend hours on this river hitting the waves over-and-over again. The whole run is only about 1-1/2 miles long and passes old mill factories and neighborhoods. If you take-out at the bottom on the Merrimack River it adds another 3/4 mile to the run.

During the months of April and May the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust runs rafting trips in cooperation with Zoar Outdoor (water dependent).

Updated Info: There is a new put-in 100 yards upstream of the old one. It is a public park with a boat ramp and plenty of parking. It gets plenty of use from fishermen and flatwater boaters so security is better as well (03/2009).

The fence at the takeout below Middlesex Dam has been removed by the city for parking lot reconstruction. So it's no longer necessary to "hop" the fence to get to your car (03/2009).

Technical info

Put in elevation........98'
Take out elevation......55'
Total drop..............43'
Average drop/mile.......34'
Distance................1.25 miles
River width average.....35'
River geology...........schists small boulders some ledge
River water quality.....Varies, stained dark by upstream swamps.
Scenery.................Varies, urban to trees, some trash on shore.
Wildlife................Ducks, Great Blue Herons, etc.

 

River Paddling Season

Estimated chance (%) of finding the river runnable.
Month............% chance.................comment

January ............50%....Be cautious of ice.
February............50%....Be cautious of ice
March...............90%....Highest water month. 
April...............80%....Water holds up well. 
May ................60% 
June................20% 
July................10% 
August...............8% 
September...........20%....Tropical storms and their remains 
October.............30%....Trees go dormant less water being absorbed. 
November............60% 
December............50%....Watch out for ice late in month. 


Be aware this is averaged out over several years. The % chance refers to the probability of finding the river running on any given day. For instance a 10% probability for July means on average you can only expect 3 days of water. One year there could be 6 days in July with water other years none. 60% of all runnable days (>400cfs) are in the low to medium range. 30% are in the medium range. 10% in the medium high to high range. Spring levels are usually higher than fall levels. Flows on the Concord river usually peak 40 to 48 after a rain event.

Local Map - Concord river and surrounding area of Lowell

Map of Lowell, Mass. and area surrounding the river.
Map courtesy of Google Maps

 

 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-08-20 13:13:21

Editors


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0New [Upper] Put-inPutin Access
0.1Lower Put InPutin Access
0.1Centennial Island DamIVHazard Photo
0.5Wave above Twisted SisterIII+Playspot Photo
0.5Wave above Twisted SisterIII+Playspot Photo
0.5Twisted Sister (AKA Wamesit Falls)IIIPhoto
0.6Surfing WavePlayspot Photo
0.6Hydroelecric PlantPhoto
0.9USGS Gage
0.9River-Wide Surfing WaveIIPlayspot Photo
0.9Wave at Bottom of IslandIIIPlayspot Photo
0.9Wave at Bottom of IslandIIIPlayspot Photo
1.0Meaty Hole at top of Straight ShotIII+Playspot Photo
1.0Meaty Hole at top of Straight ShotIII+Playspot Photo
1.0Straight Shot (AKA Massic Falls)IIIPlayspot Photo
1.3Chestnut Street Take-OutTakeout Access Photo
1.4Middlesex DamIVHazard Waterfall Playspot Photo
1.4Warren Street Take-OutTakeout Access
1.5Hamilton Canal LocksTakeout Access Photo
1.5Hamilton Canal LocksTakeout Access Photo
2.2Merrimack River WavesII+Playspot Photo
2.3Stackpole Street Take-outTakeout Access Photo

Rapid Descriptions

New [Upper] Put-in
There is a new put-in a hundred yards upstream of the put-on by the dam (on the upstream side of the railroad track.)

It is a public park with a boat ramp and plenty of parking. When driving in from I-495 just go straight instead of turning right and passing under the railroad tracks.

Lower Put In

Put in either above or below Centennial Dam.

Put-on just below where Lawrence Street crosses the river. You can put on either above or below a runnable dam at the put-in. The dirt road running along the river is gated but not locked. Boaters are allowed to open the gate and drive down to one of the put-in's. Raft trips normally put on slightly furthur down the river by a large eddy.



Centennial Island Dam (Class IV, Mile 0.1)

V-Slot in Dam

V-Slot in Dam
Photo of Norm Rehn by Conrad Nuthmann taken 27 Feb 05 @ 6.2

In between the two put-ins is dam used to divert water down the canal for the small power plant. Run the dam approximately 50 feet off the right shore where a V-shaped bend in the dam creates a channel and narrow tongue. Be aware this drop is very rocky and can be full of debris. Make sure you scout it carefully or watch someone else run it. At river levels below 6 feet the run starts to bottom out and gets rocky.

The dam (also called Wamesit Power Company Dam) completed in 1900, is owned by Wamesit Real Estate Trust. Constructed of concrete, rebar, and wooden boards, it is 320 feet long and has a height of 5 feet. Its capacity is 415 acre feet; normal storage is 75 acre feet. The fishway is 79.5' long and was opened in 1991.

Wave above Twisted Sister (Class III+, Mile 0.5)

Surfing above Twisted Sister.

Surfing above Twisted Sister.
Photo of Graham Fitter by Skip Morris taken 04/30/07 @ 6.2

Immediate above the eddy leading into Twisted Sister on river-left is a great surfing wave.

Wave above Twisted Sister (Class III+, Mile 0.5)

Surfing above Twisted Sister.

Surfing above Twisted Sister.
Photo of Graham Fitter by Skip Morris taken 04/30/07 @ 6.2

Immediate above the eddy leading into Twisted Sister on river-left is a great surfing wave.

Twisted Sister (AKA Wamesit Falls) (Class III, Mile 0.5)

Twisting thru at low water

Twisting thru at low water
Photo of Skip Morris by Tom Todd taken 05/98 @ 5.85 (985 cfs)

The river drops suddenly after a nice series of play holes just above. The best route is to eddy out on river right just above a big hole. Peel out from the eddy, cross the channel and thread your way down along the right between the holes. At higher levels (6.5+) the holes become huge and a channel straight down the left edge opens up.

Surfing Wave

Getting ready to surf

Getting ready to surf
Photo of Norm Rehn by Conrad Nuthmann taken 27 Feb 05 @ 6.2

At the bottom of Twisted Sister is the one of many great surfing spots. There are handy eddys on both sides for easy access.

Hydroelecric Plant

Hydro Plant

Hydro Plant
Photo of Centennial Island Hydro Plant by Skip Morris taken 04/30/07 @ 6.2

A small (700 Kwatt) hydro-electric plant is fed by a 2,300-foot long, 36-foot wide, 8-foot deep diversion canal that transports water from the dam at the put-in to the powerhouse. Operated by Centennial Island Hydro and Olson Electric, Olson electric has been co-operative in the past when asked to temporarily shut down electric production for a group of paddlers to run this section. License was granted in 1981. Pictures of the turbine upgrade can be found on the French Riverland Company pages.

USGS Gage

The gage is hidden under the trees just below the Rogers Street Bridge.
Hidden under the trees on river-right just below the Rogers Street Bridge is the USGS gage. The area is fenced off, you'll have to hop the fence next to the bridge to access the outside staff or to scout the rapids below. Be aware the area is loaded with poisen ivy.

The gage is totally invisible from the river during the months when leaves are on the trees. You can paddle right by it without knowing it is there.

River-Wide Surfing Wave (Class II, Mile 0.9)

River-wide Surfing Wave

River-wide Surfing Wave
Photo of Skip Morris by Craig Randall taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

Below USGS gage the river splits into two channels around an island. Take the left channel for a very sweet river-wide surfing wave about half-way down the island.

Wave at Bottom of Island (Class III, Mile 0.9)

Wave at bottom of island

Wave at bottom of island
Photo of Spencer Randall by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

At the very bottom of the island the left channel turns and joins the main channel; here you'll find an enjoyable (and sticky) wave. Hug the channel to the right to grab the eddy around the corner and allow yourself to play on this wave over-and-over.

Wave at Bottom of Island (Class III, Mile 0.9)

Wave at bottom of island

Wave at bottom of island
Photo of Spencer Randall by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

At the very bottom of the island the left channel turns and joins the main channel; here you'll find an enjoyable (and sticky) wave. Hug the channel to the right to grab the eddy around the corner and allow yourself to play on this wave over-and-over.

Meaty Hole at top of Straight Shot (Class III+, Mile 1.0)

Eyeing the hole at a safe distance.

Eyeing the hole at a safe distance.
Photo of Craig Randall by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

At the very bottom of the right channel along the island (just at the top of Straight Shot) lies a very meaty (but fun) surfing hole. The hole can be easily reached from the left channel by swinging inside close around the bottom of the island, than attaining up into the eddy along the right channel. From here you can ferry across and enter the hole from eddies on either side of the river.

Meaty Hole at top of Straight Shot (Class III+, Mile 1.0)

Eyeing the hole at a safe distance.

Eyeing the hole at a safe distance.
Photo of Craig Randall by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

At the very bottom of the right channel along the island (just at the top of Straight Shot) lies a very meaty (but fun) surfing hole. The hole can be easily reached from the left channel by swinging inside close around the bottom of the island, than attaining up into the eddy along the right channel. From here you can ferry across and enter the hole from eddies on either side of the river.

Straight Shot (AKA Massic Falls) (Class III, Mile 1.0)

Waves at Straight Shot

Waves at Straight Shot
Photo by Skip Morris taken 06/09/06 @ 6.3

Once the two channels come together the river drops precipitously into a series of much larger wave/holes. The center is more of a wave than a hole therefore it is easier to punch through. There is no maneuvering needed and the run-out is flat. There is good surfing and playing in the last wave at the bottom of the rapid.

At higher river levels this rapid just gets bigger-and-bigger!!!

Chestnut Street Take-Out

Chestnut Street Takeout

Chestnut Street Takeout
Photo of Chestnut Street Takeout by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07

Park in an open lot on Chestnut Street. Take out on the lawn of a retirement home. Be aware the back gate of the home gets locked at night after 8:00 PM.

You can also take-out below Middlesex Dam by climbing thru the woods on river-right just below the dam and hopping the fence to get to the Chestnut Street parking area. Note 4/11/03: Graham Fitter reports that the fence was highly charged! Rob, Ken and Graham all got pretty big shocks when they tried to climb over the fence having run the dam. The lights surrounding the parking lot are probably responsible.

Middlesex Dam (Class IV, Mile 1.4)

Classic route thru Middlesex Dam

Classic route thru Middlesex Dam
Photo of Frank Yulling by Conrad Nuthmann taken 27 Feb 05 @ 6.2

After the Route 110 bridge the river takes a sharp left then a sudden right over the remains of Middlesex dam. At low-to-medium levels It's a pushy, rocky abrupt drop route over the remains of the dam.

This drop should be scouted each trip since rubble can collect, especially on river left where there is still rebar, lumber, and other debris on the river bed. Scout from the island that the ramains of the dam juts out from. DO NOT attempt a run thru the diversion canal on the right side of the island. This route is blocked by dangerous steel beams cutting across the channel.

Skirting the big rock...
Photo of Tom Todd taken 5/98 at 5.85 (985 cfs).
There are two normal routes thru Middlesex dam. The classic route runs along the far right edge of the channel, brushing as close to the ramains of the dam as possible. Start on river-left just above the rapid, cut across the rapid to the right paddling hard directly towards the dam. Don't stop paddling even though you think you're going to hit the dam, the fast current will quickly pull you by it and down a lighting quick 6' abrupt drop. This route is paddleable down into the high 5's on the gage.

The center route (a favorite of rafts) starts on river right, following the flow of the current. Cut left just past a big rock-hole combination and thread your way towards river-center just above the meat of the drop. Turn right and head over the drop, just to the left of a big hole, and next to one of two big rocks which form rooster tails. This route is runnable from the low 6's and higher.

You can also sneak the dam by creeping up along the face of the dam and swinging around the right edge of the channel into the eddy below.

At higher levels this rapid tends to wash out and gets easier.

Warren Street Take-Out

Open boat takeout off Warren Street next to the garage.
Park either along Warren Street or in a public parking garage next to the Doubletree Hotel. Take out along a break in the fence, climbing over a concrete drainage pipe just below Middlesex Dam on river-left. There is a paved area used by the city to practice roadway line painting. This location is favored by open boats since there's no requirement to drag a bigger boat thru the brush and over the fence.)

This is also a great spot to scout Middlesex Dam.

Hamilton Canal Locks

Canal Locks

Canal Locks
Photo of Rafters by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

Below Middlesex Dam just above where the Concord flows into the Merrimack River are a set of 19th century locks used to access the canal system from the Merrimack. They are still in operation today and usable by river trips by prior arrangement. Note: As of 2006, the innermost lock gate is jammed shut by a large log and the gates are partially silted shut. Once the locks raise you up to street level you have to take out and portage around the last lock gate. This area is the raft take-out since they use the nearby Doubletree Hotel as a base of operations. Hamilton Canal connects to the other canals in Lowell as well as the Merrimack River upstream of Lowell.

Hamilton Canal Locks

Canal Locks

Canal Locks
Photo of Rafters by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07 @ 6.0

Below Middlesex Dam just above where the Concord flows into the Merrimack River are a set of 19th century locks used to access the canal system from the Merrimack. They are still in operation today and usable by river trips by prior arrangement. Note: As of 2006, the innermost lock gate is jammed shut by a large log and the gates are partially silted shut. Once the locks raise you up to street level you have to take out and portage around the last lock gate. This area is the raft take-out since they use the nearby Doubletree Hotel as a base of operations. Hamilton Canal connects to the other canals in Lowell as well as the Merrimack River upstream of Lowell.

Merrimack River Waves (Class II+, Mile 2.2)

Merrimack River Ledges

Merrimack River Ledges
Photo of Graham Fitter by Skip Morris taken 04/30/07 @ 6.2

After passing the locks, the Concord River flows into the Merrimack River. Continue on downstream and just above the final take-out are a series of river-wide ledges with some glassy surfing waves.

Play on river-right to avoid being swept by the take-out.

Stackpole Street Take-out

Stackpole Street Takeout

Stackpole Street Takeout
Photo of Stackpole Street Takeout by Skip Morris taken 05/02/07

When the Merrimack river is low and the Concord is very high getting to the takeout from a river left line over Middlesex Falls can be tricky. Buildings downstream will keep you in the river until you enter the Merrimack river. The final takeout is found about 1/2 mile down the Merrimack River on river right. Park near the end of Stackpole Street for good access.


User Comments


2009-07-27 06:56:20 (1916 days ago)
Kevin Lindberg Sr.Details
The tree at the bottom of the island has moved a little. There is still a path on the left channel.
If it moves more it will block path through. Right of the island may be a better path, but I could
not the upper eddy on the other side to make that determination. Please be careful.

2009-07-20 06:56:49 (1923 days ago)
Kevin Lindberg Sr.Details
There is a new strainer on the Concord this weekend. It is at the bottom of the island and reaches
most of the way across the river. The wave that is in the right channel that everyone likes to surf
is blocked by the tree. The best route is to go left of the island; there is a channel next to the
tree that is clear. It would appear that the tree is probably not moving anytime soon unless we get
more rain and the river comes up again. It would not take much to block the channel that is now
open. Kevin Lindberg

2008-11-19 04:01:03 (2167 days ago)
x (1)
There is a timber sticking up out of the water blocking the sneek route at the middlesex dam.

2008-03-30 08:03:41 (2400 days ago)
Michael McWhirterDetails
March 29, 2008. The strainer is cleared now. You can pass both sides of the island clearly.

2008-01-04 10:34:41 (2486 days ago)
x (1)
Jan 08. There is a river wide strainer in the third rapid, where the river splits around an island.
The strainer is in the right channel and is from bank to bank.
Users can submit comments.


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