With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adventures in Urban Kayaking: The Park River

(Sad City has a long and storied history with the Park River. This post is from the first time we attempted to conquer Hartford's hidden river, originally posted back on August 4, 2010 (before Sad City became the soulless corporate behemoth it was destined to become). 

We are looking back on this Park River post to celebrate Art Walk opening this Friday December 7 at from 6-8 at the Hartford Public Library. The Art Walk will be featuring incredible images from our good friend Senator Joe McCarthy, who has spent countless hours on the Park River documenting and photographing the tunnels beneath our fine city. It's really some fine work. Be sure to stop by and check it out. Rumors has it that there may even be a photo of Jumper and Hakaan in the gallery. 

Everyone knows about the Connecticut River. It’s the largest river in the state and serves as the City of Hartford’s eastern border. People are not as familiar with Connecticut’s other river, the Park (née Hog) River. Last weekend, the Sad City Hartford team went urban kayaking down Hartford’s forgotten river. Let’s just say it was a learning experience.

The Park River originally divided Hartford into northern and southern sections and was a major part of Bushnell Park but the river was nearly completely enclosed and buried by flood control projects in the 1940s. The Park River used to be called the “Hog River” because it was where the city would dispose of its sewage and industrial waste.

Too often the activity of kayaking is limited to the confines of rural Connecticut. To counteract this grave injustice, the Sad City Hartford team traveled down the Park River to discover what sort of water sport (not the gross kind) the City of Hartford had to offer.

We dropped our kayaks off on the backside of the University of Hartford campus. Big mistake! The water is pretty shallow and we spent most of our time getting stuck on rocks and having to carry our kayaks passed fallen trees. It took us roughly 90 minutes to travel across the UHa campus. And while the travelling sucked, the scenery was pretty.

Once we got passed the initial slow goings, things picked up slightly. We were able to travel several hundred yards at a clip before having to pull out of the water and walk our kayaks passed naturally formed water dams constructed of trees, branches and garbage. There are few feelings worse than crashing into a pool of swirling river garbage. (That happened a lot.)

If you ever decide to kayak down the Park River, and we strongly DON’T recommend it, wear long pants. Jumper set out on the journey dressed for the excursion like a frat boy at spring break, circa 1997. It was hysterical listening to him whine as his bare legs brushed against prickers and poison ivy. Also, be prepared to get wet. The water is gross and it won’t kill you, but there are parts of the trek that require you to wade through the river.

The Park River winds by some very diverse tracts of property. From the mansions of Scarborough Street to the housing projects of Woodland Drive, we were struck by how close those areas physically are from each other. There is something very surreal about being surrounded by trees and forest while you ride down a river and then suddenly hearing a police siren whiz by, but that is part of the joy of urban kayaking. You never know what you will encounter. We saw a deer scamper through the woods near Mark Twain Drive. At one point, we think we saw junkies “up to no good” near Homestead Avenue. The diversity of scenery was one of the few upsides of the trip.

Our journey ended right before the entrance that leads to the legendary tunnel under Hartford. When we initially set out on the trip, we intended to paddle the entire Hartford stretch of the river, including the tunnel, but we wussed out in the end. It had taken us much longer than anticipated to get down the above-ground-portion of the river (roughly 4 ½ hours) than we expected. Plus, Jumper was whining like a little girl.  We fully intend to make the trek down the covered portion of the river in the next few weeks. And when we do, we’ll be sure to report back.


  1. LOL! I heard of you guys on WCCC. This is great! Quite entertaining. Thank you.

  2. I don't bother to wipe.

  3. I've done the tunnel twice a few years ago, definitely a cool trip. Just make sure you check the exit though, you want to make sure you can get out!

  4. My father took me down over the railroad bridge on Albany Avenue at the height of the 1955 flood. The Park river was a pond from the middle of Westbrook Village over to the Christian Science church. Rabbits were running out of the field where travelers Park had been.
    My friends and I spent a lot of time along the park river and the woods and fields around it from behind the old Uconn branch on Woodside Cir. all the way to Bloomfield.
    We once stole a cement mixing tub from Hartford Cement on Granby St., dragged it down to the river and polled it Downtown to the falls where the river used to go underground where the State Legislature office building is now.

  5. i think that there are pumps that pump the water out into the Ct River. I'm not at all sure i'd want to head into parts unknown.

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