The Great Marsh


I began the summer and now I have ended the summer with an all-day kayak trip through the Great Salt Marsh near my home.  It gives you a different perspective to see the area from the water.  And in fact, much of the area around Essex, MA can’t be seen except by water and the change in tide meant that over the time we were out, the water could have changed 9 feet, exposing the thick sediment of the marsh.

dscn0931On both days we went out with the tide and then headed back in after the tide had started to return.  Areas like this, with marsh grassland and tidal creeks, provide rich habitat.  The Great Marsh, the largest salt marsh in New England, is no different. Just drive through the area on any summer evening and you will see lines of people at local seafood restaurants and takeout—clams and lobster dominate. At other times you can see birders out checking out the migrants who have stopped on their way between the arctic and the tropics.

While the Great Marsh provided an important source of food for Native Americans, the area around the Essex Bay became known for its boat-building for almost 300 years beginning in the 1600s.  The shelter of the estuary provided a safe place to build the fishing boats that would then be taken to the fishing port of nearby Gloucester..dscn0948

I wondered about the safety of shelter when the sands shift every day, season, and year at the mouth of the rivers.  On one trip I got stuck in a sandbar as I tried to navigate in a channel.  On the other trip we had to go out into the ocean in order to go around a sand bar and then enter the Essex River.  The breakers were coming from several directions and I did take on some water when one came over me.

As you paddle throughout the marsh, it is easy to see the age of the settlement.  For example, Choate Island (called Hog Island) was settled by John Choate in the 1600s.  The Choate house that still sits on the island was built in the early to mid1700s.


The island is a drumlin, a hill feature shaped by glaciers that leaves one higher blunt end to the hill and another more tapered end.  On Choate Island you can see examples of the salt marshes that provided pasture for cattle. As we walked on the island, it had similarities to Nova Scotia where the Acadians built structures to drain the salt marsh.

Two beautiful days in the marsh and summer is now over.



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