Off of busy route 9 eastbound is an interesting hiking area with an urban park feel, Hemlock Gorge and Echo Bridge, that includes areas of Wellesley, Needham, and Newton. On the mid-March day we went, sounds of traffic mingled with birdsong, 9am church bells, and the churn of water as it surged over a spillway. The Charles River showed off its meandering early-springtime beauty, and Echo Bridge loomed large. We also came across two caves that maybe were empty, or maybe were the winter homes for hibernating bats, making the area feel a bit wild.
There’s a small parking lot at 4 Ellis St. in Newton with room for seven cars. We crossed the street and began our hike at the 23-acre Department of Conservation and Recreation property.
Our first goal was to check out Echo Bridge. The easy way to get there is to walk the short distance up Ellis Street via the sidewalk. We went the hard way because we’re like that. If you get to Echo Bridge via the narrow path along the river, expect massive boulders on your left, a sharp drop to the river on your right, and wet and slippery leaf litter underfoot at this time of year. Steep descents mean this route is not advisable for young children, nor is it accessible. But it sure was fun to play mountain goat as we edged our way carefully along this short stretch.
What’s with the weirdness atop the water?
Dozens of foam floaters made their way down the quick-flowing Charles River as gracefully as swans, but not as pretty to our eyes. We found out from Wellesley Natural Resources Director Brandon Schmitt that the bubble clumps were most likely a result of the breakdown of organic material in the river.
“As the temperatures increase, and we have more rain in the spring and more turbulence in the river, the decomposing organic materials are agitated and produce foam. While it is very possible that some observed foam is from some synthetic substance coming from a pipe or other direct source, much of the foam observed in the rivers right now is completely natural. The use of fertilizers can cause plant and algal blooms, which when they break down could increase the presence of foam,” Schmitt said in an email.
Approaching Echo Bridge…bridge…bridge…
Echo Bridge impressed in three ways. The first is the view as we approached the seven-arched stone and brick bridge. Built in 1877 by Boston Water Works, Echo Bridge was acquired by the State in 1895, before it was taken over by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1984. At 500 feet long and 70 feet high, the National Historic Landmark was built to impress.
The second is the pure fun of shouting from the Echo Platform. After falling into disrepair, the Echo Platform was restored in 2004 through the efforts of the Friends of Hemlock Grove, a sort of secret weapon volunteer organization devoted to preserving and improving the reservation. Waban Arches behind Nehoiden Golf Course, which we’ve written about in the past, should be so lucky to have such a stewardship group.
The third can’t-miss are the spectacular river views from the pedestrian walkway on top of the bridge, but we had to work for those views by crossing Ellis Street and climbing a steep staircase. So worth it.
After we crossed the bridge into Needham, we kept to the left and followed the wide, easy path, moving toward the sound of Hemlock Gorge. Nearby a couple of contemplative benches overlook the area, and there is easy access to the river’s edge.
From the gorge area, we retraced our steps back to the Needham side of Echo Bridge and tried out the pathway on the Wellesley side of the reservation. After crossing a footbridge, we soon came to an old stone building that the U.S. Geological Survey keeps handy as a stream gaging station. A beat-up old sign on a beat-up old door says that the station is part of a national network for obtaining water resources information.
From the stream gaging station we saw traffic whizzing down route 9, but we ventured a little closer to the road and were rewarded with view of the falls at Horseshoe Dam.
After going back over the footbridge, we cut right to view the two caves across an offshoot stream of the Charles River. They looked dank and mossy and ancient. It would take braver hikers than us to actually explore the interiors. We turned around and retraced our steps back to Echo Bridge. Once across we had a choice—take the hard way back to the parking lot via the narrow path along the river, same way we came, or take the easy way down the Ellis Street sidewalk. Feeling our luck had carried us far enough for one day, we took the easy way and ended our hour-long hike happy.
The hemlocks at Hemlock Gorge
Although many of the area’s namesake hemlock trees still stand along the steep banks of the Charles River, the trees are imperiled by the wooly adelgid beetle. Native to Asia, the voracious pest first appeared in the United States in 1924. The beetle feeds off the sap of hemlock trees, killing them within eight years. According to the Friends of Hemlock Gorge website, wooly adelgid beetles have, indeed, appeared in the Gorge. The Friends are working with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to develop a strategy to thwart the invaders.
For more great Wellesley hikes, check out the Wellesley Trails Committee’s round-up of favorite trail walks. Each walk includes a downloadable and detailed description of the area, along with a handy map.