Welcome Summer on the Charles

While April brings back the sailboats at Community Boating in Boston, May marks the beginning of the paddling season, with the opening of Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Cambridge, Brighton/Allston, Waltham, and Newton and the training of new scullers and crew teams at Community Rowing in Brighton. Both of these opportunities are described in the February blog “Cruising on the River.”

An early summer rowing event on the Charles River is the Dragon Boat Festival in early June. “ Tuen Ng” or “Duanwu” as it is known in China originated with the death of the beloved Chinese poet and statesman Qu Yuan who threw himself into a river in 278 B.C. rather than see his province overtaken by another state. Onlookers threw rice balls into the water to protect his body from being eaten by the fish. Dragon boating became part of Asian culture over 2000 years ago around the time it was included as a competitive sport at the ancient Olympics in Greece. It is always scheduled on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month on the Chinese calendar.

This festival with its colorful dragon boats began in Boston thirty-five years ago and now includes over forty teams from the US and Canada, with Boston’s dragon boat race the largest in this country, drawing thousands of spectators to watch the colorful boats in a 500-meter race between the Western Avenue Bridge and the Weeks Footbridge. The teams are comprised of twenty rowers facing the drummer or caller standing in the bow of the boat while a sweep steers the boat from the stern. On the second day of the event, all participants and spectators are invited to join in the  festival where traditional Asian foods are provided such as zongzi, the special sticky rice ball with various fillings, wrapped in leaves (sometimes bamboo).

One local team that participates in this event is a group called the Wellness Warriors, cancer survivors and their caregivers who row for health and healing while building team spirit. Along with private groups, many corporations sponsor teams to build community.

Boating in Boston is another organization that provides paddling opportunities around the Boston area with a Charles River location in the Auburndale section of Newton at an historic boathouse, near the Marriott Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue, situated over a six-mile pond formed by the damming of the river in 1816 to provide water power for Francis Cabot Lowell’s Boston Manufacturing textile company in Waltham. This area of the Charles referred to as the “Lakes District” with its small islands and forested coves is a great location for picnicking and hiking as well as boating.

The “Lakes District,” known for its recreational value in the nineteenth century, became more accessible to residents of the Boston area because of a trolley built near the Boston and Albany railroad station. To increase the use of the trolley, Norumbega Park* and boathouse were built in 1897 at the end of the trolley line, bringing people from the city to rent canoes and enjoy many hours relaxing on the quiet water or picnicking on the small islands or in the shaded coves of this lake. Imagine five thousand canoes here on a warm summer Sunday in the early 1900s while people watched from the Weston Bridge (along Rte. 30).

The 27-acre Norumbega Park also had a small zoo and amphitheater, and later the famous Tote Pole Ballroom where many a well-known singer or band performed.

Norumbega Park closed in 1963 with the growth of car travel and the increasing number of families who began to drive longer distances for their vacations.

Following the construction of the Marriott Hotel on several acres of this land, the Newton Conservation Commission obtained state funding and acquired the remaining thirteen acres of Norumbega Park for conservation and recreation. This area is marked with trails that “wind through a meadow, steep pine and hemlock-covered riverbanks, and a wooded knoll opening to a scenic view of the Charles River, [with] tagged, honorary trees and shrubs in the meadow.”

*I have written a chapter about the meaning of “Norumbega” and some of its history in my book Exploring the Charles River (pub. in 2015 by Merrimack Media, Inc.)

Today people can still ride the Green Line trolley or Commuter Rail to Riverside or drive to a parking area across from the boathouse to rent kayaks and canoes and receive instruction and assistance from the staff.

Boating in Boston also has a number of other locations besides that of the Charles River in Newton, including Spot Pond in Stoneham, Lake Quannapoiwitt in Wakefield, Lake Cochituate in Natick, and Carson Beach, Boston, and make available a variety of water sport options, such as pedal boating, rowing, sailing, and stand up paddle boarding, this sport seems to be catching on).*

“Stand up paddle boarding” is another water sport that seems to be catching on. The REI website offers advice for the size of paddle board to select and other key pieces of equipment to enjoy SUP.

(See the “REI Expert Advice” article, Stand Up Paddle Boards: How to Choose, for details.) © 2016 Recreational Equipment, Inc.

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