The Charles River in Cambridge, MA is an 80-mile long river that flows to a northeasterly direction in eastern Massachusetts. The source is up at Hopkinton, and the river travels all throughout 23 different cities and towns until reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Boston. It is also referred to as the River Charles, or simply Charles.
The Charles River is fed by 80 streams and a number of major aquifers as it flows the length of 80 miles. It specifically starts at Echo Lake in Hopkinton before it empties itself at the Boston Harbor. Around 33 lakes and ponds and 35 communities are part of the Charles River drainage system. Despite its length and large drainage area, the source is actually 26 miles from the mouth, and the river only drops at 350 feet from source to the sea. Moreover, the Charles River watershed contains more than 8,000 acres of protected wetlands, known as the Natural Valley Storage. These areas are very essential in preventing downstream flooding and the like.
Looking Back at its History
The name of the river was once thought to be Quinobequin. This means meandering. The river was used back then by the Native Americans for their local transportation and fishing.
It was Captain John Smith who explored and mapped the coast of New England, giving names to many features. He originally named the river as the Massachusetts River. When he presented the map to Charles I, he suggested that the king should feel free to change any of the names for “English” ones. And indeed, the king made changes. Only four survive today, and one of which is none other than the Charles River, named after the king, himself.
Through the years, the Charles River drops slowly in elevation, and has very little current. Despite of this fact, the early settlers of the place found a way to use the river to power mills. It was in 1639 when the town dug a canal from Charles to a nearby brook that drained to the Neponset River. Through this, a part of the river’s flow was diverted, giving enough current for a number of mills. This new canal and the brook are now referred to as Mother Brook. It is recognized as the first industrial canal in North America.
Things to Do
The Charles River is quite well-known for a number of recreational activities. These include rowing, sculling, dragonboating, and sailing. The river may also be kayaked, depending on the time of the year. Aside from that, the Lower Basin, located between the Longfellow and the Harvard Bridges is home to Community Boating, the Harvard University Sailing Center, as well as the MIT Sailing Pavilion. The Head of the Charles Regatta happens here every October. And in early June, the annual Hong Kong Boston Dragon Boat Festival is held in Cambridge.
Water sports can be fun, but people can go biking near the river as well. There is even what they call as the Charles River Bike Path. It runs at 23 miles along the banks of the River, which starts at the Museum of Science, passing campuses of MIT, Harvard, and the Boston University. The path is quite popular for runners and bikers alike.
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