My Turn: A small state rich in rivers

  • The view from the summit of Mt. Sugarloaf State Reservation, one of the most iconic portraits of the Connecticut River Valley. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CHELI MENNELLA

Published: 9/30/2021 8:52:22 AM

As the days turn cooler, and nights become crisp, we in Massachusetts often turn to the outdoors as a place to seek refuge. In a world still dominated by COVID-19, being outdoors, where the “background noise” can be a rapids, a bird call, or the whisper of a grazing doe, outdoor recreation presents a safe escape from the worries presented by indoor gatherings of people who are masked or unmasked, vaccinated or unvaccinated.

In a few short weeks, the explosion of fall colors throughout New England will draw people outside. However, they need not wait. This month, Massachusetts residents can enjoy the outdoors by being in, on, and beside a river. We are a small state, but we are rich in rivers. The state has 28 major watersheds and more than 300 named rivers. Overall, Massachusetts has more than 8,200 miles of rivers presenting opportunities for multiple experiences.

At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I bought a pair of kayaks, and by the end of the summer of 2020, we had explored 14 Massachusetts rivers. Whether one carries a boat, a fishing rod, or nothing at all, Massachusetts residents can enjoy the glory of a Massachusetts river. We took our kayaks, but Roger uses his bicycle to be by, but not in, the water; Mark’s wheelchair provides his wheels. Jeanne aims her camera for her close-up wildlife photos, while Ian captures the scenes he sees through his watercolors. Each experiences the rivers differently.

Every part of the state has its own treasure. The Taunton River is the longest coastal river in New England without dams. The Taunton, a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River, is known for its varied habitats supporting populations of birds and other wildlife. The Saugus River was known by Native Americans as Aboutsett, or “winding stream.”

The Connecticut River is named after the Pequot word “quinetucket,” meaning long tidal river. It is a beautiful river for paddling — especially in the fall, when motorized boat traffic has largely subsided — with multiple locations for canoeing, kayaking, or paddle-boarding. The Sudbury, Concord, and Assabet rivers, also Wild and Scenic Rivers, were recognized for their outstanding ecology, history, scenery, and recreational value, and are popular hiking and paddling destinations.

The Housatonic River starts in the Berkshire mountains. It flows 149 miles southward into the Long Island Sound. Fishing is a major activity along the entire length of the river, offering some of the best fly fishing to be found in the eastern United States. The river is also home to a series of wooden bridges, such as the West Cornwall Covered Bridge.

And these are just a few to get you started. To help Massachusetts residents celebrate and enjoy their abundance of river-based opportunities, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the voice of Massachusetts Rivers, recently published its “Explore Your Rivers” guide to these treasures. ( Explore Your Rivers provides information on swimming, paddling, boating, fishing, and walking/biking in watersheds throughout the state. There is information on accessible trails, kid-friendly activities, and public transportation, as well as links to nearby events.

So if you’re feeling a little down, anxious, or unsure about how to fill those weekends while you’re taking a pause from indoor activities, go enjoy a river! And bring a friend.

Julia Blatt is executive director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the voice of Massachusetts rivers. The Alliance is a statewide membership organization of 81 environmental organizations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.


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