This is not an exhaustive review of the many places in Rhode Island where you can launch a kayak. Plenty of web resources have done that already. It is just a short recounting of my search for a safe place for a beginning paddler to put it.
I live in the heart of kayak country, Hopkinton, RI. We have numerous accessible ponds and couple of major rivers, most notably the Wood River and the Pawcatuck. One section of the Wood River has been described as the most pristine wildlife area in New England. Hopkinton is also the terminus of the Narragansett Trail which winds through 22 miles of Connecticut and Rhode Island wilderness. On the Rhode Island side it passes through (and is managed by ) AMC, The Audubon Society, and others. This trail passes many remote water spots.
I started my search for a nice calm place for a novice kayaker by checking out the bridge on Skunk Hill Road. The bridge, located less than a mile from my home, goes over a wide area of the Wood River. It is possible to put a kayak in at this point but it involves walking down a steep incline through a partially cleared area next to the bridge. It is not the best place to put in.
My next stop was about a mile down the river where it is crossed by Bridge Street in the middle of Hope Valley. There is a parking lot and a boat ramp there. Sounds good.
But then, there is also a steep dam, the Wyoming Dam, that is followed by some very low water and numerous rocks. I would have to put in about 20 feet from the dam and then paddle upstream (quick, Ken, don’t get pulled backwards) towards the bridge on Skunk Hill Road (see above) and then paddle back down. Not too bad, so long as I can stay away from the dam. Does it sound like I’m a bit paranoid about that dam? Check out the photograph showing how cold it gets at this location.
Several miles downstream and along the Hopkinton side of the river (Richmond is on the other side) there is a nice spot sometimes called Mechanic Falls or Carpenter Mills.
There is another dam here and it dates back to 1765. It has a beautiful horseshoe shape. The upper section of the river appears calm and inviting. It runs right along the main street of Hope Valley, though it is rare to get a glimpse of it from the street. At one time there were mills on both sides of this site. Now there are just ruins including a 60 foot chimney and a really nice dam with a sluiceway that is jammed with ancient iron works. There is a level spot just down a path where I could put the kayak in. Then there is that dam again! They seem to be everywhere. (see the U.S. Dept. of Interior document on this historic district for additional details.)
My next stop (weeks later) was a bit closer to home. The location is up-river and resides about 1.5 miles north of my home. It is the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association, a group that oversees over 300 square miles of watershed in Rhode Island and neighboring Connecticut. They have a real nice headquarters right on the Wood River next to yet another dam. I have read about people going over this dam and getting killed when they got caught up in the old machinery below. I decided to go inside one of the buildings and discuss things with someone. I met up with Chris Fox, the executive director of the association. He spent quite some time with me explaining why this was an especially good place to put in if you are a novice. He also discussed other locations, the interactive river condition reporting system, and the variety of wildlife that are regularly seen on this stretch of the river. Very soon Chris will be making forays upstream with his chainsaw so he can locate and remove any falls. Chris is an especially nice person and I was very happy to meet him. The association is in good hands!
My final destination for the day was some 5 miles away on the Eastern end of town. I was looking for two ponds, Ashville and Blue. They are not far from the Connecticut border. They are in the Rockville section of Hope Valley. If you ever stayed at Yawgoog Boy Scout Reservation, you were in Rockville. At this point my travels were taking me in a huge circle that could eventually end up on Route 138 and bring me back home from the opposite end that I started at. The street I was on, Canonchet Road, was narrow and twisting. I didn’t see many people but there were plenty of horses and cows. Then I spotted Ashville pond on my left (actually a rather large lake; we call everything here in RI a pond) and a very small turnout with the state ‘Ashville Pond’ sign at the edge of the road. I decided to continue by this spot and try to find Blue Pond. I would visit Ashville on the way back. The Google Maps printout I had indicated that I should soon see a road branching to the right and leading to the southern tip of Blue Pond. My GPS said that the road did not exist. All I ever saw was a dirt logging road with a metal barricade across it. Was I supposed to park there and walk? My research showed that most of Blue Pond was lost during the big storm that broke its dam a couple of years ago and nobody was sure if the dam had been repaired. This was looking like a lost cause.
It was time to find a place where I could turn the truck around and head back. That’s when I saw a small state parks sign that said “Long Pond“. That one wasn’t even on my list! I pulled in. There was no pond, not even a swamp. There was a large depression in the forest that may have been a swimming hole some time in the past, but now it just held an old TV and a rim and tire. Where was the pond? As I walked about I found another sign that said “The Narragansett Trail, Yellow Dot”. I had never heard of that. I decided to check the trail out.
It immediately climbed through rocky forest at about a 30 degree angle and then leveled off on a well-worn path that overlooked, you guessed it, a pond. This must be Long Pond. As I continued on the path the elevation continued to rise to over 400 feet (I had a portable GPS). The land to my left sloped up through the forest. To my right were sheer cliffs that led some 100-200 feet down to the ever-widening pond. I could see similar rock faces across the pond on the other side. At the higher elevations the path actually followed a natural rock ridge that sometimes I walked on and sometimes I walked on the narrow path on the downside of the cliff. The area was overflowing with rhododendrons and mountain laurel. The view was awesome! Everything reminded me of a place I visited many years ago, Ell Pond. Could Ell Pond be around here? I had no idea. It was too many years ago that I had visited Ell Pond with its amazing view of wild cranberry bogs, steep cliffs, and an unending horizon. Unfortunately I did not have hiking shoes on and it was getting late. Rain clouds were rolling in. It was time to get out of here. I checked the maps when I got home. Ell pond would have been right around the corner from where I quit, maybe another 1/2 mile or so. I’ll be going back, but not to put a kayak in.
Related links of interest:
The Story of the Yawgoog Trails – this page provides a nice description of the Narragansett Trail and others. Good photos.
Blueways and Greenways – the number one reference for boating and hiking in Rhode Island.
Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association – a group that is maintaining and promoting the best in Rhode Island wilderness.
Southern New England Paddlers – aka Kayak Fun – this group meets for regular kayak outings at 6:00 PM in the summer. The emphasis is fun and learning.
Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association – RICKA is a very active group that has something for everyone.
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