Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Travel: Plum Island Sound - A Natural Beauty

I have the good fortune of living in close proximity to a truly beautiful and protected body of water and adjacent lands defined by Plum Island to the east, and the Great Marsh to to the west. The body of water between the two is Plum Island Sound, which is the outlet of the Parker River, the Rowley River, and the Plum Island River (which also connects, via Plumbush Creek, under the Plum Island Turnpike Bridge, to the Merrimack River). Most of Plum Island, and a large portion of the marsh west of the sound is encompassed within the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. According to their website, the refuge contains some 4,700 total acres, with 3000 of these comprised of marshland. This area is abundant with paddling opportunities (read my post Paddle Trip: The Plumb Island River from Plumb Island), and with some pretty amazing wildlife.

On a recent trip, Tim (see my post An Unexpected Adventure) and I spotted a roosting raptor that appeared to be a bald eagle, several seals hauled out on a dry patch of marsh (and with shiny, curious heads bobbing in the water to keep an eye on us 😉), multiple species of waterfowl, and possibly the strangest thing I've seen in salt water - a beaver. If you told me before this trip that beaver use marsh saltwater creeks to travel, I wouldn't have believed you - and yet, it swam nonchalantly right past the two of us. I've also seen deer, horseshoe crabs (ancient, alien looking creatures), and, until the beaver sighting, my most unusual salt water discovery: a snapping turtle. Keep in mind this is also an area known for arctic snowy owls and is a nationally recognized area to view migrating birds - especially at the nearby Joppa Flats.Then, there's the fishing. Striped bass are abundant in the sound when they're running, and bluefish and groundfish species (flounder, sole, etc) are available - primarily on the eastern side of Plum Island, which is open to the Atlantic.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

There are several kayak put-ins in the area, on the Parker and Rowley Rivers, on Water Street near Joppa Flats on the Merrimack River, and, for a fee, near the gate entrance to the Plum Island section of the wildlife refuge. The refuge itself has a gravel road that runs its' full length, and there's a state park at the southern tip with beach access. There are also boarded walkways off the road that provide access to views of the sound, or that meander through the dunes to the open ocean side.The refuge charges a per day fee, or you can buy an annual pass. You can also use your National Park pass should you have one. 

You can rent kayaks at Newbury Kayak and Canoe on the Parker River in Newbury, and also at Plum Island Kayak in Newburyport. Ask them about local conditions, though. Currents on the Merrimack River can be treacherous, and the mouth of the river is considered one of the most dangerous on the east coast. There's a Coast Guard station located near the mouth of that river because of the dangerous conditions (Newburyport is the birthplace of the USCG). Even the lesser rivers like the Parker and Rowley can have challenging currents depending on the tide. Explain your experience and comfort level and they should direct you where to go. Or, consider a group tour if it's available. 

With proper planning, the waters of Plum Island Sound offer a fantastic opportunity to paddle through protected coastal lands and waterways - and to view abundant wildlife. Birds of all kinds, seals, deer, fish, and possibly odd visitors like beavers or snapping turtles all make their home here. Wear bug protection, especially during the vicious "greenhead" fly season (see my post Essex Bay - A Northeast Massachusetts Gem), and bring a map - the various creeks can be visually confusing, especially at lower tides. 

Parking can get a little tricky midsummer, and for good reason. Folks recognize a good thing when they see it. But, don't be discouraged. With some persistence, the natural beauty of Plum Island Sound and its environs are there for your enjoyment. Afterward, you can explore Newburyport or Amesbury (farther upriver on the Merrimack) for a bite to eat and one of the many locally brewed beers (like the offerings at Silvaticus Brewery & Taproom)..

- TB on the Water   



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