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Erasmo Valdez, one of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council’s River Rangers, paddling with Bruce Hooke on the River in Providence, near Eagle Street.

Paddling the Woonasquatucket River Watershed

From quiet ponds and reservoirs in the northern part of the watershed to urban paddling through the heart of Providence, to even some stretches of quickwater and mild whitewater in-between, the Woonasquatucket River Watershed offers diverse paddling opportunities. One of the surprises in store for the paddler is how nature can be found in even the more urban parts of the watershed. Right in Providence the river often flows between green riverbanks dense with great trees that overhang the river and often enclose it in a tunnel of green. Small wetlands along the river attract birds and other wildlife, and turtles are a common sight.

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council has produced a series of seven paddling maps and guides to paddling locations throughout the watershed. They are available as a booklet from the WRWC and they can also be downloaded (see links below) as individual PDFs. The first PDF is an overview map of the watershed, with the locations of the individual "paddles" as well as a key.

Some of the paddles can be strung together to create a longer trip but at this time it is difficult to make a complete source to sea trip. In the area of Centerdale, in North Providence, there is an active Superfund site that impacts both Allendale Mill Pond and Lymans Mill Pond. The EPA has deemed that these ponds are safe to paddle on as long as reasonable precautions are taken such as washing your hands after coming in contact with the water and cleaning any mud off your shoes and gear. However, since not many people have paddled in this area recently due to the Superfund site, the portages around the four dams between Greystone and the Manton/Greenville Avenue bridge are not well established. There are also no public access points on these ponds. The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council is working to have this area cleaned up and is also looking into ways to make this part of the river more accessible.

Below this area the river is open to paddling but there can still be water quality issues. During and after heavy rains human pathogen levels (e.g., bacteria) in the river will be very elevated due to overflows from the sewer system, and it can take a few days for this to dissipate. The new sewage tunnel under Providence has reduced but not eliminated this problem. Sewer overflows in dry weather are rarer but can happen due to problems in the sewer system. The river bottom and riverbank sediments in the lower river also have many chemical contaminants in them. Fishing (other than catch and release) anywhere on the river south of Centerdale is not recommended due to the contamination in the river and the sediments.

Paddlers on Watershed Council outing on Woonasquatucket Reservoir (Stump Pond) in Smithfield.

This booklet cannot teach you safe paddling. Learn before you go! If you are unsure of your paddling skills consider an easier trip, consider taking a paddling classes, or come on one of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council’s organized paddling outings, which are open to all skill levels, from complete beginners to experienced paddlers. RIC/KA, the AMC and many other groups also offer opportunities to get out on the water with experienced leaders.

Remember that conditions can change quickly as the result of both natural and human activity. What was safe one day may be dangerous the next, especially on a moving river where it can be hard to stop or back up to get out of danger. Rivers change every day, so conditions on the river may differ from what is described in this guide.

Always wear a life jacket and clothing suitable to the weather conditions. Pay attention to the weather and the risks it may present to paddlers. Be especially careful when the water is cold. Cold water kills, even when the air is warm, such as in the spring and early summer.

Fishing (other than catch and release) in the river below the Smithfield–Johnston line, which crosses Greystone Pond, is not recommended due to contamination in the river and the river-bottom sediments.

Paddling Maps and Guides:

These paddling maps and guides are organized starting at the northern end of the watershed and working south to Providence, where the Woonasquatucket flows into the Providence River which becomes Narragansett Bay. For more details on the location of each paddle within the watershed see the overview map and key.

More Maps!

The two maps below were produced through a partnership with the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, with funding from the Rhode Island Foundation. They provide more information about paddling in Downtown Providence and paddling on Woonasquatucket Reservoir and Stillwater Pond. To find other free downloadable paddling maps for southern New England visit the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance website.


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