TOWNSEND — The Squannacook River winds west to east through Townsend, visible from Route 119 at the pond in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post and again at Harbor Pond, but usually hidden from view.
The distance between the two ponds is about 4 miles on the road, but stretches to 7, maybe even 7.5 miles on the water.
For canoeists and kayakers, it is a challenging span.
When the water is high, inexperienced paddlers can be thrown into the snags, said John Delaney, who has canoed the waterway for close to 50 years.
“The obstacles make it fun,” he said.
When it is low, it can be very difficult to get through the shallow areas. And there is no telling from day to day what the conditions will be.
The river can change its depth by over a foot in one day. From season to season, water levels can vary 5 feet either way from a mid-October level, Delaney said.
Prime paddling season begins as soon as the ice is out, usually around mid-March. It ends shortly after the mid-April Squannacook River Canoe Race, sponsored by the Townsend Lions Club.
The race attracts between 55 and 75 paddlers who start 30 seconds apart and race from the VFW pond to Harbor Pond. It takes the best paddlers, often Delaney’s son John, less than an hour and a half to complete the trip.
Someone with less experience might be at it for up to three hours.
The number of snags caused by downed logs and brush can mean lots of portaging, taking the craft out of the water and carrying or dragging it to a clearer section of the river.
The Squannacook is an Outstanding Resource Waters area, one of the eastern-most streams in the state that is cold enough to support trout. The river draws anglers to its pristine waters.
It is also home to more than one endangered species.
Conservationists work hard to keep the river attractive for fish and other wildlife by maintaining the growth shading the stream and leaving the snags that serve as natural bridges and breeding grounds, said Townsend Conservation Agent Leslie Gabrilska.
The Townsend Conservation Commission received permission from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to partially clean the section of the river between the old railroad trestle in West Townsend near Canal Street and the bridge at Turnpike Road.
Removing trash and some of the logs and snags should make paddling the river easier and still maintain a good environment for fishing and the wildlife protected under the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Gabrilska said.
The work will be done in the summer of 2013, when the water is low and the weather is warm enough to spend the day in the stream.
Gabrilska and MassWildlife officials spent an entire day walking the section to evaluate the project. All the abutting property owners have given written permission for the cleanup.
The endangered species have been identified. Volunteers will work under the field supervision of staff from MassWildlife.
Now all that is needed are a few good volunteers for a few days next summer. Contact Gabrilska at town hall for information at 978-597-1700, ext. 1739.