The city of Lowell is situated at the confluence of two prominent New England rivers, the Merrimack River and the Concord River. The Merrimack River originates in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Newburyport, MA. The Merrimack has a watershed of about 5,000 square miles. The Concord River is a major tributary of the Merrimack River. It has a watershed of about 360 square miles entirely within the state of Massachusetts. The Concord is formed by the confluence of the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers in Concord, Massachusetts. Native Americans named the Concord "Musketaquid" or "Grass-ground River", because of its broad flat flood plain and extensive wetlands. The Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Concord.
When the Concord River reaches Lowell its character changes dramatically, as it drops 50 feet over three sets of waterfalls in a one-mile reach. Its presence in Lowell is largely unnoticed, however, because it is hidden from view in people’s backyards and behind buildings. Bridges crossing the Concord offer only limited views of the most tranquil sections. You can check the current flow rates on the Concord River here: U.S.G.S. Concord River Flow Gauge
The Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust has focused programs and projects on the Concord River in Lowell as a means of reconnecting people to the broader environment and their place within the watershed. (Also see "Bedrock, Bricks, and Rock Doves: The Natural History of Lowell, Massachusetts; an exhibit by the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust.) Our activities include spring Concord River Whitewater Rafting trips, creation of the Jollene Dubner Park, the Concord River Greenway Park, participation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's River Herring/Alewife Restoration Program, and partnership with the Bay Circuit Alliance’s Bay Circuit Trail. We also sponsored an ecological survey performed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. A copy of their report can be requested from us on the Contact Us page. A brief history brochure about the Concord River neighborhood in Lowell is also available here.
For more Concord River history and science, see our Concord River Greenway Classroom [supplemental] web site here.
Every spring the Concord River belies its tranquil name and turns into a mass of rolling foam waves to form Class III and IV whitewater through the city of Lowell. The Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust takes advantage of this spring phenomenon to offer one of the most unique whitewater rafting trips in the country. Lead by expert guides from Zoar Outdoor, participants navigate twice through three sets of rapids, “Twisted Sister”, “Three Beauties”, and “Middlesex Dam(n)”, on a one mile reach through the heart of the city.
The Concord River drops 50 vertical feet through the city of Lowell and it is the location of the earliest mill sites in the area. Rafting trips on the river conclude by being lifted up (ascending) 17 feet through an 1850s lock chamber (Lower Locks of the Pawtucket Canal) which is a National Historic Landmark located in both the Lowell Heritage State Park and Lowell National Historical Park. Our Concord River Whitewater Rafting trips received a 1997 "Best of Boston Award" for the best urban adventure in greater Boston.