The weather and our schedules finally lined up, so Jess and I were able to take the new kayak out. We live a stone’s throw from where the Lower Mystic Lake meets the Mystic River in Arlington MA, so it is a quick carry to the shore for a put in (and yep, if you were wondering, this is the Mystic River of Sean Penn/Tim Robbins fame.)
The lake is fairly small and gets some motorized use. Which means on popular weekends a peaceful paddle is not a realistic expectation… but if you don’t mind playing in the wake of boats it can be a lot of fun. Weekdays are a quieter option, or you can put in on the Upper Mystic Lake which is motorless.
The river runs approximately 6 miles start to finish and winds through several communities before joining the Charles River in the Boston Harbor. I haven’t explored much of it, but from what I can tell it is calm with mostly local traffic.
Both the lake and the river are bordered by roads and development – and so you are never far from the sounds of cars or reminders of everyday life. But you do still get a sense of ‘being out there’. It is an interesting combination of experiences while paddling in this environment… you can peacefully float up on a turtle sun bathing on a log, yet clearly hear the sounds of a basketball game from a park on the other side of the treeline.
Even obvious urban infrastructure, like a highly trafficked bridge, can blur into the surroundings giving you a sense that you are on the boundary of nature.
Unfortunately, the down side of this is that you cannot escape the negative signs of such close proximity to civilization. It isn’t uncommon to see trash left on the shores (or occasionally floating by you) – and the sewage overflow and street run off drains are easy to spot. Heavy industrial use along the watershed has also led to water quality problems that continue to be an issue today. The EPA gave the river a grade of C- with “notable improvements” for the calendar year 2008. This doesn’t seem to discourage fishers though… especially on weekends when it is common to see people casting a line at each clearing along the river. I’ve never asked if they actually eat the fish they catch – I assume they throw the glowing ones with 3 eyes back in.
Once we buy my canoe, Jess and I are looking forward to exploring the Mystic River down to the harbor. The possibilities for adventure are numerous. A really ambitious trip would be to pack a night’s worth of gear and link a river paddle with a harbor paddle to one of the islands that allow overnight camping. That would require a level of experience (and equipment) that is beyond us right now… but the idea is exciting.