When you have an urge for a “creek paddle”, Boat Meadow responds. But, before we launch a description of the Boat Meadow River paddle, let’s first decide upon the difference between a river and a creek. Officially named Boat Meadow River, most paddlers might consider Boat Meadow a creek.
For our sake of reference, as in mountains and hills, ponds or lakes, most of us might consider a mountain larger than a hill, a lake bigger than a pond, therefore a river wider than a creek. Boat Meadow River is classified in our minds as a creek no wider than 30 feet from side to side, making it much shorter than the Herring River paddle and very different from Bass Rivers’ boat traffic and shoreline development.
It should also be noted that you will rarely, if ever, encounter a small power boat or sailboat while paddling Boat Meadow. In all my years paddling Boat Meadow, I recall one time that I passed a small skiff in the creek, crabbing.
To understand more fully where you are paddling, picture Boat Meadow as a flat floored valley, geologically speaking, called an outwash channel. Most water trails on Cape Cod are outwash channels. The outwash channel at Boat Meadow was formed by melting water quickly running off ice (flooding), the ice left behind as the glacier retreated, and the melting water carving a path towards Cape Cod Bay.
The water trail itself follows that deep path (channel) down the middle of the valley (outwash). Over the last ten thousand years bogs have germinated in the area, eventually being overtaken by marsh encroachment, and now you get the vision that you will be paddling back and forth in an old outwash channel with no real gradient at all, that is occupied by native bogs and fertile marsh detritus, and you will be passing a diversity of salt marsh plants.
And, since the 138 acres of Boat Meadow has only one navigable route, a mile and a half stretch of meandering creek, surrounded by upland areas, marshlands, and fronting Cape Cod Bay, it offers paddlers great opportunities to view backyard birds, shorebirds and hawks – most notably the osprey and red-tailed hawks, shorebirds like willets, terns, and great blue herons, and sparrows and red-winged blackbirds.
First, upon your arrival to the parking area at Boat Meadow, you will surely look out into windswept Cape Cod Bay and question your intentions. Except for the first five minutes at launch off the beach, the creek is tranquil. The parking lot and beach are the most exposed sections of your trip.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the Boat Meadow paddle, in my opinion, is getting your kayak from atop your vehicle to the shore line. The steeply sloping sand (maybe 10 ft) berm is tricky to descend because there is no apparent trail. Also the parking area is on a very weathered bluff exposed to the prevailing SW wind. If you are not carefully aware, the winds can blow strong enough to topple your kayak off its roof rack, take off a side-mirror, or worse, land on someone. I am talking from experience and well deserved embarrassment.
Once your boat is down on the beach, there is always a chance of shore break, if, as usual, the prevailing winds from the SW funnel into the mouth of the creek from Cape Cod Bay. Position the bow of your kayak directly into the breeze, allowing the bow to slice through the breeze.
At launch, push straight through, what may be, eight-inch chop created by the SW breeze coming off the bay. Pulling and pushing swiftly paddle away from shore, directly into the incoming wavelets, breaking each falling wavelet with the bow of your kayak. Paddle out 25 yards, become aware of wind direction, and using a sweep stroke turn to your right (north), position the breeze to be centered on your back and flow with the wind and incoming tide into the creek entrance. Once inland, past the mouth of Boat Meadow River (and some moored sailboats), choose any one of the three channels carved into the marshland, they all lead to one main channel that will take you into the outwash valley.
Remember we said this is a fairly easy paddle. However, for paddlers, bridges are also memorable, and not just because the silence of the water trail is instantly overpowered by vehicles moving closely above, and not just because the bridge on Bridge Road over Boat Meadow is about half way down the creek, but because it may create a formidable obstacle. Occasionally, you can’t get underneath the bridge because you didn’t know or didn’t take into consideration that the tides are getting consistently higher, not necessarily during just a full and new moon. The tides may be extremely high due to a low pressure system off the coast, but understand that Boat Meadow fills with water to a height where you have to limbo under the bridge in order to sneak through. I don’t know about you, but I am not as limber as I use to be and when entering Boat Meadow I am always diligent in figuring out if I will get under the bridge comfortably.
Approximately an hour into your paddle, obviously dependent upon your speed, Boat Meadow Creek forks to the left towards the remnants of an old dike. It also forks to the right where within 100 yards the lush marsh closes in and spartina grasses arch from side to side. At this point, it’s hard to image that sailing ships passed through Boat Meadow on there way to Town Cove. Back then, early 1800’s, this was called Jeremiah’s Gutter.
We recommend while at the fork you paddle right into the marsh. It is true, the creek will narrow to a point that it is un-passable, but, in our opinion, that is better than taking a left at the fork. Twenty five yards left of the fork the force of the tidal flow gets strong enough to pin your kayak against remnants of the old dike if you are not careful to paddle to the right of the deserted piling. The dike once separated the marsh meadow from an old cranberry bog.
We suggest that at the fork, it’s a good place, wide enough, to turn around and head back to the beach and parking area. You should also be aware that there is no place along the creek trail to stretch your legs. You might consider bracing your kayak against the marsh edge to hoist yourself onto the marsh grass.
Of all the water trails, Boat Meadow Creek is very unique. It is a straight forward channel that is enveloped by marsh grass and sheltered from winds and waves.
Locals Corner: Boat Meadow is particularly beautiful in the fall. No one believes that more than local paddler “Sunny”, who gets great joy out of paddling Boast Meadow. If it were Sunny’s chose she would paddle Boat Meadow each week, especially when the leaves are changing color, the marsh grass yellowing, and the crispness of the air coming off the bay which invigorates the inhabitants of Boat Meadow River .
Historical Fact: “Many of the cranberry bogs were developed on the flat, swampy floors of Kettle Ponds and outwash channels. Gradually the partly decomposed vegetative matter replaced the water surface, producing a bog. The vegetative matter was compacted in brown material known as peat. Which wad taken from the bogs by local people in the late 1700s through the early 1800s for use as fuel. The peat ashes were used as a fertilizer on fields.” Robert Odale, A Geologists View of Cape Cod.
Geologic Fact: The Boat Meadow outwash channel lies on the northern and eastern fringe of the Sandwich glacial moraine which extends east along Rte 6, the Mid-Cape Highway, from Sandwich through Barnstable to Eastham where deposited till crosses to Orleans, from bay to ocean.
Botanical Fact: Technically Seaweed, those quasi-plants you see under water, suspended, swaying beneath you as you paddle, are a sure tell-tale sign of which direction the tidal current is moving, But, seaweed is not a plant afterall. Seaweed is a term that refers to all macroalgae in the Protista Kingdom. Seaweeds may resemble plants but their structure is defined as a blade instead of a leaf, a stipe instead of a stem, and my favorite, the holdfast which roots the seaweed to the substrate. The holdfast is a system of threads with a platform that sticks the green, brown, or red algae firmly to minerals, rocks, or mollusk along the waterway bottom.