Warning: Shawsheen River, Andover Dam Removal

Posted on April - 20 - 2017

dam removal 12/16 Andover Townsman


Dam Removal Completed in Andover
What does it mean to the paddling community?
By: Ken Doran, April 2017

In March, 2017 the final stages of the dam removals and river restoration on the Shawsheen River in Andover, for the Steven Street and Balmoral dams, has been completed. There has been extensive writing about this project for many years and the work on the river is finally complete. With that said, what does this mean for the paddling community? Is the section between Central Street and Riverina Road now open to paddlers? What information should the paddler consider? The following is an outline of considerations for paddlers who may wish to use this section of the Shawsheen River.
A. As with all paddling activities, safety is a primary consideration. Wearing a properly fitting life jacket, paddling in areas within your skill set, understanding river hazards, and weather considerations, are just some of the fundamentals for all paddling activities. Also, scout the section to be paddled ahead of time as conditions are always changing.

B. The section of the Shawsheen River under discussion is the section from Central Street to Riverina Road (behind Woodworth car dealership). Within this section there are multiple hazards some of which will be discussed below. This section of the river has been considered for years by the paddling community as Not Recommended for the general recreational paddling due to its multiple obstacles and hazards.

C. Starting at Central Street and going downstream the first major obstacle is the Redman Card dam (upriver from the Essex Street bridge). This dam has been partially breached (river left) and water flows through this passage. Paddlers can get out on river right before the dam, (steep banking, and thick brush) carry over the dam and return to the river on the downstream side. This option varies in difficulty depending on water level. Often if the water is high, getting back on the river on the downstream side is challenging with swiftly moving water which is heading straight towards the old turbine outlets for the mill building. It is not advisable to “run” the breached dam except by the most experienced paddlers giving due consideration to the river water height and the navigation around pieces of the old dam that block a clear passage through the breached dam opening.

D. Paddlers continue downstream, under Essex Street heading toward the Steven Street bridge and the site of the previous dam. The bridge is directly upstream from the now removed Steven Street dam. If you are not familiar with this section of the river, once you get to the Steven Street bridge, depending on water height, you may not be able to easily get off the river. Knowing the conditions and obstacles ahead is the responsibility of every paddler. If the paddlers decided to get off the river before the Steven Street bridge, there are few good options. Wetlands, dense brush, and poor public access are some of your concerns.

E. If paddlers choose not to exit the river before the Stevens Street bridge and “run” the restored river at the old Stevens Street dam site, there are some serious issues to consider. The river was reconstructed at the dam site (originally rapids before the dam) with “ripple” or random placed rocks to give the water a rippling effect while descending a considerable drop in river elevation. In low water condition, the rocks are definite obstacles and you would most likely need to walk your boat down the ripple section. In high water conditions, this can be a Class III whitewater section, that may be appealing to some experienced paddlers; however, immediately below the ripple is a pedestrian concrete bridge that is a serious concern as you cannot get under it and there is no place to exit the river. This section of river has serious concerns and is not recommended to all except the most experienced paddlers. If the water is low, you could walk your boat down the ripple, and have adequate clearance to get under the pedestrian concrete bridge, you will then be confronted with getting under the Route 28, Main Street bridge which has only slightly more clearance then the pedestrian bridge. The Main Street bridge also has an “I” beam and pipe obstacles to consider.

F. Finally we come to the winding section of river that goes past the shopping plaza, behind Washington Park Condominiums, and eventually comes to the section approaching the Balmoral Street bridge. Shortly before the bridge the river begins a section that has concrete/stone walls on both sides. These walls continue past Rout 133 (Haverhill Street) to the end of Riverina Road. The old Balmoral Dam was between Route 133 and Balmoral Street, has been completely removed and is no longer an issue to paddlers. It should be noted; however, that this section of river from Route 28 to the end of Riverina Road has no public access points for the river and the walled section makes it extremely difficult to exit the river.

This summary of paddle conditions from Central Street to Riverina Road is presented in the public interest due to the dam removals in Andover. It should be noted that the river is an ever-changing body of water with new and potential obstacles around any corner. All of the usual ongoing obstacles such as downed trees should always be expected. Go out on the river, enjoy the beauty of our wonderful resource, but always keep safety as a primary concern.
See you on the river.