Paddling Our Local Wild & Scenic Rivers

By Susan Crane, Land Protection Specialist
Miles and miles of the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers flow through our watershed, quietly defining the 36-town region of Sudbury Valley Trustees.  In 1999, these rivers were given federally-protected Wild & Scenic status when Congress approved this special designation for 29 river miles.  President Clinton aptly described the importance of this event: 
The addition of these rivers to the National System recognizes their outstanding ecology, history, scenery, recreation values, and place in American literature. Located about 25 miles west of Boston, the rivers are remarkably undeveloped and provide recreational opportunities in a natural setting to several million people living in the greater Boston metropolitan area.
We are all the beneficiaries of these gentle, free-flowing Wild & Scenic Rivers, a partially hidden treasure in our increasingly populated suburban towns.   Much of the Wild & Scenic segments of these rivers bisect a green ribbon of open space, thanks to a combination of conservation efforts and river protection laws.  SVT properties and town conservation lands are interspersed along the banks of all three rivers;  one of SVT’s smallest properties, Jug Island, sits in the middle of the Concord River.  Ten river miles of the Concord and Sudbury Rivers lie within the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and the Assabet National Wildlife Refuge overlooks part of the Assabet shoreline.
Most of you can envision the expansive wetlands of the Sudbury River floodplains, especially during a wet spring when the river resembles a wide lake when seen from the air.  Vast acres of buttonbush, which thrives in wet soils, transform into a natural sponge to retain floodwaters.  Other parts of the river are defined by steep banks with towering and cooling hemlocks.  Yet others flow through agricultural fields first planted centuries ago and broken only by colonial stone walls,  pine and hardwood forests, and lands traversed by Emerson and Thoreau. 
We pass over these rivers on bridges, perhaps admiring them from a car window.  But paddling them tells another story . . . .  
A great blue heron taking flight, with a grace mismatched by its piercing call 
An osprey diving in for a fresh catch, then carrying off a fish in its talons for an uninterrupted dinner 
A sunset over Fairhaven Bay, with the still of the water broken by the sudden appearance of a beaver slapping its tail, then disappearing into opaque waters 
Startled painted turtles, diving simultaneously from a fallen trunk into the protection of the river 
Colorful and diverse butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies flitting just above the water’s surface 
Swallows dancing in the sky to catch an evening meal 
A harmony of spring bird songs – wood thrush, orioles, woodpeckers, warblers -punctuated by the baritone call of a bullfrog 
Imagine for just a moment what our rivers would be like if buildings, parking lots, and manicured suburban lawns lined their shores.  Land protection along the rivers not only adds to the rivers’ scenic values, but it creates an upland corridor of habitat essential to sustain wildlife.  Natural and undisturbed vegetation along the river corridors prevents erosion and filters harmful runoff that would otherwise flow into the rivers. 
Our Wild & Scenic rivers are an oasis for wildlife – birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians.  Moments after slipping my kayak into the water, I am transported worlds away from the bustle of our suburbs and cities.  The buzz of human noise quickly subsides and time slows down.  Then the wildlife begin to appear. 
For copies of maps and trail guides to the rivers: