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A Great Little River for Kayakers/Canoeists: Hidden Gem is Full of Surprises

Updated on April 30, 2017
A coyote is a rare, lucky sighting at Little Pond, but there's always plenty of other wildlife to be seen. - Photo by George Sommers
A coyote is a rare, lucky sighting at Little Pond, but there's always plenty of other wildlife to be seen. - Photo by George Sommers

My favorite aspect of kayaking is wildlife spotting. For that purpose, and just a few scant miles from Boston is an underutlized waterway I return to kayak on again and again.

The best access to Belmont MA's Little River is from Little Pond. (Little Pond is aka Little Spy Pond in neighboring Arlington, where I grew up; for its larger, just across Route 2 sibling, Spy Pond.) Access to Little Pond is via a grass covered path that looks like you're going through someone's yard. The river runs parallel to, and right near Rte. 2, and it's obscured on the other side by wetlands and industrial buildings.

Surprise number one may come in the form of a startlingly loud "plop" as you circumnavigate the appropriately named Little Pond (or Little Spy if you prefer) and pass a shallow, marshy area. It's a two foot long brown carp trying to avoid you. Mid-spring, you'll also encounter swirling schools of silvery alewives as they migrate from the ocean to spawn.

The biggest surprise for me came one afternoon while I was angling to take a photo of a great blue heron on a branch overhanging the water. Turned my head for some reason, and observing the action on the shore, a few mere feet from busy Rte. 2 was a curious coyote. And don't be fooled by the fake coyotes an abutter placed on their lawn to keep the Canada geese at bay!

A residential complex sits between Little Pond and the entrance to Little River. Residents have set up a picnic area complete with a sign reading "Gilligan's Island".

It's a slow, gentle current which won't give you much of a push, though on the other hand it's very easy to deal with on the return, upstream trip. What might give you some trouble are fallen trees and submerged branches which may require some breaking, butt lifting/pushing, swearing and /or getting icky stuff in your hair.

If nothing else, you're sure to see mallard ducks, swans, comorants and lots of eastern painted turtles sunbathing on logs. You may spot colorful wood ducks or a muskrat, and great blue herons and black crowned herons are often around especially when there's an easy alewife meal to be had. You might catch a glimpse of a pheasant, but more likely hear it squawking. Lots of smaller birds, like colorful warblers, make the area a birdwatcher's paradise. Not so common was the large red eared slider turtle I sighted one afternoon. As they are not native to the area, this one was probably released by a pet owner when it grew too large.

The river meanders toward the Alewife subway station in Cambridge, where I got big surprise #2. As I emerged from under a bridge, I spotted several long brown legs, which on closer inspection, turned out to be a herd of 4 deer- in the city limits of Cambridge!

Shortly after the T station, the river flows into Alewife Brook. The round trip returning to the Little Pond launch site at this point is a leisurely 3 hours. Or you can continue into Alewife Brook. This long neglected waterway is finally getting some attention paid to it and while much improved, i still wouldn't wade of bathe in it! It's a short trip from there to Medford's Mystic River. Hang a left for the Upper and Lower Mystic lakes; or if you go right, you will eventually hit Boston Harbor.


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