The First Flood at Tomaquag Trail

By HHA Member Tom Helmer

Photos by Marne MacNamara, Harvey Buford, Bob Miner & Tom Helmer

In March of 2010, the Hopkinton area was hit by the last of 3 storms in quick succession that produced a “500 year flood”. (Please see “The Flood Comes To Woodville”) The bridge and 280′ boardwalk across Tomaquag Brook and flood plain, and the re-built stone bridge over Wine Bottle Brook were engineered to withstand a “100 year flood”. Judging by the weather in the early morning of March 30, 2014, the planning passed the test, as the following photos will attest.

Overnight we were deluged by 5.5 inches of rain! The Tomaquag Brook Watershed responded immediately, and water covered many roads as the area’s culverts were unable to keep up. That afternoon, David Benn, Ted Dionne and Harvey Buford tried to reach the two bridges via the Grills Sanctuary trail head at Chase Hill Road.

They made it as far as Wine Bottle Bridge. The bridge was performing admirably, and the overflow swept across the trail on either side. This portion of the trail had many fist sized rocks mixed in with the dirt, which proved to be a good idea, but were unable to cross due to the depth, and not being able to see if there was a gully cut into the trail. Safety first.

Being among the top ten resourceful men in all of Hopkinton, (Bob Miner was recovering from an operation and was not present, but he also is on that list!) They made their way up Chase Hill Road and descended to the far side of Tomaquag Brook Bridge from David’s property. The bridge was high and dry, but at that time the boardwalk was covered by an estimated 7” of water all the way across the flood plain, which was filled with flowing water from bank to bank.

The following morning, I set out in sprinkling drizzle and came home in sleet after making the trek to Tomaquag Brook Bridge. Along the way I detoured to see the Pawcatuck River, greatly expanded, as the Wood River / Pawcatuck River watershed passed the bulge of water pouring in from all their tributary books and streams. Later, at the point where the Peninsula Loop Trail plunged under the flood waters, I shot a video of the water from the Pawcatuck river flowing “Upstream” towards Tomaquag Bridge.

I attribute this to the delay time as the bigger watersheds are still rising while the local Tomaquag Brook watershed had rapidly cleared away the deluge. While Harvey reported 7” of water and a current at the boardwalk, I found 16” of still water at the boardwalk the next day. Ain’t Hydrology Grand!

I intended to cross the boardwalk, thinking the water would be less than 7” deep, but was disappointed on arriving to find that the water level went up overnight, and was now at the same level as my boot tops, 16”. Seeing every step of the boardwalk construction and hydraulically augured piles, I was confident that the structure was sound. (Please see “Grills Trail Bridge Progress” for photos and a video of placing one of the hydraulically augured piles) I hate it when I have to be a sensible adult, but this was one of those times. A half mile walk back to my car with boots full of ice cold water was not on my agenda for this day. Maybe in the Summer.

The photos on this page tell the story with minimal text.

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3/21/14 Meanders 60’ downstream from Wine Bottle Bridge
3/21/14 Meanders 60’ downstream from Wine Bottle Bridge
3/30/14 Floodwaters overtopping Wine Bottle Bridge, mud from corn fields upstream
3/30/14 Floodwaters overtopping Wine Bottle Bridge, mud from corn fields upstream

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The “Suction” whirlpool on the upstream side of Wine Bottle Bridge. True to the Coriolis Force, it rotates Clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere
The “Suction” whirlpool on the upstream side of Wine Bottle Bridge.
True to the Coriolis Force, it rotates Clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere

Surprise, Surprise! It’s a Homer’s “Odyssey” Pop Quiz!

According to Greek Mythology Odysseus had to pass between two sea monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, on his journey home to Ithaca. One was a giant whirlpool, one was a hazardous rocky shoal.

What was the name of the whirlpool?

Learn more at Scylla and Charybdis on wikipedia.

3/31/14 Looking back across Wine bottle bridge
3/31/14 Looking back across Wine bottle bridge
Looking downstream at the bridge outflow current
Looking downstream at the bridge outflow current

 

Looking Upstream from Wine Bottle Bridge
Looking Upstream from Wine Bottle Bridge
The overflow on the South side of Wine Bottle Bridge, continuing on Tomaquag Trail
The overflow on the South side of Wine Bottle Bridge, continuing on Tomaquag Trail
Nine inches of water w 16 inch boots
Nine inches of water w 16 inch boots
4/2/14 Approach to Wine Bottle Bridge
4/2/14 Approach to Wine Bottle Bridge
4/2 Upstream culvert intake, no whirlpool
4/2 Upstream culvert intake, no whirlpool
4/2 Upstream culvert intake, shooting calm intake video
4/2 Upstream culvert intake, shooting calm intake video

4/2 Bob Miner looks back at calm outflow downstream
4/2 Bob Miner looks back at calm outflow downstream

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Since the trail head, I could see a set of fresh tracks that went out and back prior to me starting my hike at 9:30 AM. Wading through the Wine Bottle Bridge overflow, I was certain that whoever had those big feet turned around at the bridge’s watery obstacle. But NO!

Robinson Caruso and I were both equally surprised to discover the foot print of another human!

If this is your boot track, and people size 10 and smaller need not bother to apply, you have won the prestigious “Tom Helmer Old School Hiker Medalion”, with both the “Extreme Determination” and the “Dubious Sanity” clusters! Made of recycled cans and cast in the ubiquitous “Losten Foundary”, you will be the first recipient, as soon as Losten Foundary releases the shipment after I pay the bill.

The Pawcatuck River expands into its flood plain
The Pawcatuck River expands into its flood plain
About ten feet of the Peninsula Loop Trail is out of the water at this end. The video that follows shows the water flowing upstream towards Tomaquag Brook Bridge. The Pawcatuck is still in flood stage while Tomaquag Brook has drained lower.
About ten feet of the Peninsula Loop Trail is out of the water at this end.
The video that follows shows the water flowing upstream towards Tomaquag Brook Bridge.
The Pawcatuck is still in flood stage while Tomaquag Brook has drained lower.

3/31 The Bridge approach
3/31 The Bridge approach
4/2 water is still at 15” on Boardwalk, too deep for Bob & Tom’s Boots
4/2 water is still at 15” on Boardwalk, too deep for Bob & Tom’s Boots
3/31/14
3/31/14

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April 2nd ended for Bob and I with the water too high to allow passage with boots.

On April 4th, the water level had dropped to about 6” deep, and Marne MacNamara became the first person to cross. Among the usual suspects I hike with, Marne is the resident botanist & geologist.

If Mike, Rick, Harvey, Bob or myself exclaim “Wow!”, it is usually some form of archaeology. When Marne lets loose with a “Wow!”, 75% of the time it is some form of tree or rare plant, 15% of the time it is an unusual rock structure, and 10% of the time she is just feeling great to be out in the forest!

Marne hikes barefoot from late Spring through early Fall. She is one tough cookie! To cross the flooded boardwalk, she just took off her shoes, rolled up her pants and left everyone behind.

“Galoshes? Galoshes? I don’t need no stinking Galoshes!”

Marne surprises us frequently! She is a delightful hiking companion with a lot of insight.

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3/21/14 Ted Dionne at the standard bridge photo spot above high water in early spring The 3/31 flood water level is the blue line
3/21/14 Ted Dionne at the standard bridge photo spot above high water in early spring
The 3/31 flood water level is the blue line

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4/5  The boardwalk emerges
4/5 The boardwalk emerges

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3/6/14  Winter water level
3/6/14 Winter water level
3/21/14  Spring high water level
3/21/14 Spring high water level
4/5 High Water Level
4/5 High Water Level
3/21/14  Spring high water level looking downstream at Courage Bridge
3/21/14 Spring high water level looking downstream at Courage Bridge
4/5  Looking Downstream, w Courage bridge completely submerged
4/5 Looking Downstream, w Courage bridge completely submerged
3/21/14  Spring high water level looking downstream
3/21/14 Spring high water level looking downstream
3/21/14  Spring high water level looking upstream
3/21/14 Spring high water level looking upstream
3/31/14  A second exploratory party descended from Chase Hill Road to Polly Coon Bridge. It was also high and dry, although the low approaches were also flooded. Note that the old central support foundation is submerged, producing turbulence in the river.
3/31/14 A second exploratory party descended from Chase Hill Road to Polly Coon Bridge. It was also high and dry, although the low approaches were also flooded. Note that the old central support foundation is submerged, producing turbulence in the river.
3/31/14  The Cedar Swamp Trail remained afloat, but just barely
3/31/14 The Cedar Swamp Trail remained afloat, but just barely
Guess why they call these “Dead Falls” and “Widow Makers”
Guess why they call these “Dead Falls” and “Widow Makers”
3/31/14  The water was only 6’ from the Cedar Swamp Trail
3/31/14 The water was only 6’ from the Cedar Swamp Trail

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3/6/14  John, my hiking companion from Westerly, looks at the red oak Time Bomb
3/6/14 John, my hiking companion from Westerly, looks at the red oak Time Bomb

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3/31/14  A fallen white cedar on Cedar Swamp Trail
3/31/14 A fallen white cedar on Cedar Swamp Trail
At noon, 3/31, the water level was 21 inches below the bottom of the side brace planks
At noon, 3/31, the water level was 21 inches below the bottom of the side brace planks
The side wash from Chase Hill Road
The side wash from Chase Hill Road

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How do I safely take pictures out in the rain for hours?

I built a cheapo water resistant housing for my digital camera!

The first thing you need is the big plastic container of Planter’s Peanuts. After you dispose of them, carefully slice an appropriate size section out of the middle of the container. This is Tough plastic, so use a sharp xacto knife and be extremely careful.

You have to locate and drill a hole for the attaching bolt and shim that will screw into your camera’s tripod base, typically a ¼ 20 bolt and thread. Make up the spacer for the camera mount so the lens is roughly centered behind the container lid but deep within the box. Then make up a shim to support the far end of the camera.

Then you cut a hole in the top of the box, and tape a cut up rubber glove over the hole with enough slack so you can turn the camera on, and press the shutter. As you can’t see these buttons, magic marker dots on the glove above their location. I had to add a felt dot to my power button, because it was too small to feel through the glove.

Steal the laces from your friend’s hiking boots, or buy a new pair, make some holes in the side and bottom, thread the laces through, being careful to get the center of gravity of the camera below the top exit points.

Now go out in the rain and shoot, just don’t loose the container cap, otherwise you have to eat more peanuts.