By Marjorie Turner Hollman (courtesy of Bellingham Bulletin)
The Charles River is relatively small as it wends its way through Bellingham, traveling from Hopkinton (its source) to Boston, where it spills into the sea. But years ago, even these small waterways were viewed as potential sources of power. Thus, when you walk along the conservation land just off North Maple Street in Bellingham that borders the Charles River, you’ll quickly discover the remnants of an old dam. I suspect that many people pass right by, ignorant of this lovely spot as they drive north on Maple Street on their way to Rt. 126 and destinations farther north.
There is a small, defaced sign that indicates that the property on the south side of the river is conservation land. On the opposite bank of the river is land owned by the Army Corp of Engineers. There is room for several cars to park off Maple Street. Be sure not to impede access to the dam if you park there.
There are few locations in Bellingham where the Charles is accessible; this property is one of those places. We stopped on a sunny afternoon, and the fall leaves were lit by the sunshine. The light sparkled on the water as it rushed over the rocks in the fast-moving river.
The October storm has left many branches across this path beside the Charles River. Walking is manageable, but would greatly benefit from some careful trail work. Boy Scouts—Eagle Scout hopefuls, are you listening? The walking paths in the area are, for the most part, on the other side of a small stream that pours into the Charles from the south, and a small footbridge would greatly enhance the accessibility of these paths. It is possible to get over the stream, but the choice is to slog through a marshy spot early on, near the dam, or hop across the stream father up where it is drier on either side.
The paths on the other side of this small stream are extensive and bring you right down next the Charles; I’ve seen many ducks here in this quiet section of the river. Farther along the trails, the land is hilly, with varied terrain.
To get there, head north on North Main Street (Rt. 126) in Bellingham, pass over Rt. 495, continue past the shopping plazas near the highway. Stay on Rt. 126 to the light at Maple Street (Stall Brook School is just past the light on your left.) Turn right onto Maple Street, go only about ¼ mile. Tall mill buildings are on the left, the Army Corp of Engineers land is on your right, just before the guard rail that marks the bridge over the Charles River. After parking, walk along the road (carefully!) to the other side of the bridge. Go to the end of the guard rail, where you can easily begin walking alongside the Charles River.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com