Beginners Paddles: Experiencing the River

Our Beginners Paddles, a series of free group paddles, have been highly successful since their creation. These paddles allow those who have never been in a canoe or kayak not only try them out, but to gain a new perspective on the Ipswich River. While the importance of the river goes beyond the bounds of its course, the best way to appreciate why it is so worth protecting is to immerse yourself in it (sometimes literally!).
Out on the river, even on a day as hot as the Sunday of our final Beginners Paddle of the year, the air has a refreshing quality. The water is so smooth, reflecting the trees and sky overhead, that the eyes leap to the slightest ripple, hoping to see a peeking otter or diving fish. On a day when the sun is shining, turtles lie basking on every available log. Herons stand nearly invisible as they stalk fish and frogs in the reeds, or soar broad-winged overhead. Around every turn is evidence of a resident beaver making his paths along the banks and snacking on bark.  

This is the enchanting, calming and precious world of the Ipswich River. Surrounded by human dwellings, infrastructure and commerce the river is at once a serene sanctuary and a thriving ecosystem. Being out on its waters, in the midst of its world, it’s hard to imagine it gone. However, in many sections of the river last year, that is just what happened. The 2016 drought caused entire stretches of this beautiful place to wither away. Water gone, fish gone, abandoned by turtles and beavers. The native aquatic plants cooked in the sun while the invasives that prefer drier rooting ground thrived and took over.

Entering the water from our Riverbend dock, paddlers are surprised to hear how low the water was last year, even as far down river as we are. When reaching the downtown area, we point out the dam (where cormorants are often resting to dry their wings) and recount how the year before the water upstream fell below the level of the dam. Even now, though there is water in this stretch of the river, the level has dropped significantly in the mostly rain-free months of August and September.

One thing that is so great about the Ipswich River is that it requires little skill to paddle. The water has an easy flow and it has a good number of landings along its course. Only when the river narrows near bridges and culverts is any intense paddling required. It’s the perfect river for beginners of all ages, but low water levels not only cause damage to the river’s ecosystem, they keep people away from the river. First, low water levels demand increased portaging, something that can be extremely tricky depending on the location. Fish die off, the water temperature increases and then there may be not water at all. Recreational businesses that rely on the river suffer and youth programs are deprived of a great experience.

We hope that everyone who joined us this spring, summer and fall for a Beginners Paddle had a fantastic time. We hope that, if you’ve never paddled before, you do so again soon, and that if it was your first time on the river you make your way back. We also hope that you have seen what we see in the river! It is a precious resource we are lucky to have and that we must do everything we can to protect.