|LOWELL – The hundreds of commuters who whiz by the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse on Pawtucket Boulevard every day may not realize there’s never been a better time to park the car and get out on the water. |
Operated by the university since 2007, the boathouse maintains a fleet that ranges from single-person recreational crafts to eight-person racing shells and hosts a variety of programs that promote public education and physical fitness, not only for UMass Lowell students but for the community.
A full-service facility, the boathouse includes a boat bay, locker rooms, a conference room, educational spaces, a kitchen and the UMass Lowell Kayak Center, which offers kayak, canoe and standup paddleboard rentals and classes. The boathouse is also home to the Lowell High School rowing program and the Merrimac River Rowing Association, which will host the Textile River Regatta, one of the largest in Massachusetts, on Oct. 6 and also offers the Festival Regatta in June. Throughout the summer, the community gathers at the boathouse and along the river for events including the annual Southeast Asian Water Festival.
“The UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse is a great asset to the university and community, giving rowers and kayakers access to one of the best stretches of river in Massachusetts. Between regattas, instructional programs and daily use, thousands of people each year pursue their passion for water sports right here in Lowell,” said Peter Murray, UMass Lowell’s director of campus recreation.
In addition, the Tsongas Industrial History Center – a partnership between UMass Lowell’s College of Education and Lowell National Historical Park – offers environmental history programs at the boathouse for area schoolchildren. They include the River as a Classroom program, which provides fifth- through eighth-grade students with hands-on lessons about the Merrimack River. The program has been so successful it has been incorporated into Lowell Public Schools’ curriculum, according to Sheila Kirschbaum, director of the Tsongas Industrial History Center.
“We have really enjoyed working with boathouse managers, who have always been very accommodating of our needs. For our part, we have collaborated with UMass Lowell and other partners to support special regattas, public rowing and UMass Lowell crew programs,” she said.
This fall, those programs are poised to expand, thanks to the addition of John Lindberg, who recently came on board as the boathouse’s manager and UMass Lowell’s men’s and women’s head rowing coach.
Lindberg’s office looks out over the glistening Merrimack River, where tree-lined banks are just about to explode into a show of fall color. After more than 10 years as the associate head coach of Boston University’s Division I men’s rowing program, Lindberg sought a new challenge and found an ideal fit at UMass Lowell. An Acton resident, he hadn’t been to the university since the early 2000s; arriving on campus, he said he was “blown away” by the transformations – physical, academic and athletic – that have taken place in recent years.
“That galvanized my interest in where UMass Lowell is and where it is going,” he said, adding that it is inspiring him to build the university’s men’s and women’s rowing clubs – which compete and have won medals in races across the Northeast – into a destination program for students.
Participation in junior-level rowing programs at both private and public high schools across the country has grown steadily over the last 20 years and organizations such as the MRRA continue to involve the general public in the sport. More and more young people are discovering the joys of rowing, according to Lindberg.
He understands the appeal of the sport: the synchronized way athletes pull together, the flow of motion and the visceral reaction of being on the water. These experiences are central to his life, he says, and he’s eager to impart them on the next generation of impeccably coached rowers.
“It’s a very humbling sport and I think that’s the reason it captures young people,” said Lindberg, adding that it is a very positive experience and there’s a commitment to it that many athletes embrace, whether they are rowing by themselves or as part of a team.
Along with overseeing both the men’s and women’s programs at UMass Lowell, he will coach one of the teams, aiming to grow both from about 20 athletes each to a roster of 40 each.
“UMass Lowell has everything in place to be a destination choice for incoming students who want to pursue the sport,” he said.
UMass Lowell and prospective students are encouraged to learn more about the university’s rowing club. Private groups may also rent the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse for special functions. Individuals interested in doing so should contact [email protected].