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Watershed moment

Boaters give Connecticut River high marks for white water

  • Matt Guertin of Greenfield rolls his kayak in the unusually high water by the ledges known as the rock dam in Turners Falls on Monday. Utility company FirstLight Power Resources scheduled releases from dams upstream to test the section of the Connecticut River bypassing the Turners Falls power canal for white water recreational use as part of its bid for a renewed license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    Matt Guertin of Greenfield rolls his kayak in the unusually high water by the ledges known as the rock dam in Turners Falls on Monday. Utility company FirstLight Power Resources scheduled releases from dams upstream to test the section of the Connecticut River bypassing the Turners Falls power canal for white water recreational use as part of its bid for a renewed license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont "surf" at the base of a submerged rock ledge in the Connecticut River, holding the raft in place for the cooling spray.<br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont "surf" at the base of a submerged rock ledge in the Connecticut River, holding the raft in place for the cooling spray.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont participate in the weekend's white water evaluation, staged by the dam operators to test the recreational potential of the power canal bypass section of the Connecticut River between Turners Falls and Greenfield. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont participate in the weekend's white water evaluation, staged by the dam operators to test the recreational potential of the power canal bypass section of the Connecticut River between Turners Falls and Greenfield.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kayakers paddle upstream to “surf” in the turbulent water below the rock dam on the Connecticut River, water unusually high Monday for the third and final day of a white water test. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    Kayakers paddle upstream to “surf” in the turbulent water below the rock dam on the Connecticut River, water unusually high Monday for the third and final day of a white water test.
    Recorder Chris Curtis Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matt Guertin of Greenfield rolls his kayak in the unusually high water by the ledges known as the rock dam in Turners Falls on Monday. Utility company FirstLight Power Resources scheduled releases from dams upstream to test the section of the Connecticut River bypassing the Turners Falls power canal for white water recreational use as part of its bid for a renewed license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis
  • A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont "surf" at the base of a submerged rock ledge in the Connecticut River, holding the raft in place for the cooling spray.<br/>Recorder Chris Curtis
  • A group of rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater of Charlemont participate in the weekend's white water evaluation, staged by the dam operators to test the recreational potential of the power canal bypass section of the Connecticut River between Turners Falls and Greenfield. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis
  • Kayakers paddle upstream to “surf” in the turbulent water below the rock dam on the Connecticut River, water unusually high Monday for the third and final day of a white water test. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

TURNERS FALLS — The Connecticut River below the Turners Falls-Gill Dam was uncharacteristically high and fast this weekend, and filled with boaters.

Relicensing project manager John Howard of FirstLight said the usual summertime flow over the dam into the section of the river bypassing the power canal is about 120 cubic feet per second. On Sunday afternoon, the flow measured 13,000 cfs, and kayaks, canoes and rafts bobbed at the base of the mini-falls created by ledges at the area known locally as the rock dam.

“It’s great. It’s like paddling in tropical paradise right now, it’s so warm,” said Matt Guertin of Greenfield, pausing from rolling his short white water kayak in the water below the dam. Two rafts, from Charlemont white water companies Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Whitewater “surfed” in the swirling currents and spray at the base of the ledges.

Hydroelectric dam owner FirstLight Power Resources is in the process of renewing its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As a result, it is looking at its recreation opportunities on the Connecticut River, as required by the FERC. The utility controls the river flow and owns miles of the riverbank.

Guertin, 44, of Greenfield, said he kayaks this section of the river all the time. “It’s embarrassing how much,” he said. Guertin said he keeps an eye on river levels online at the United States Geological Survey website, and lives near enough to drive by and check the water in person. Nevertheless, he said scheduled releases from the dam would be a dream come true. Guertin said the stretch of river is sometimes totally dry, and he would like to see the needs of fishermen taken into consideration as well.

Jim Kelly-Rand, 60, of Boston, watched the final and highest test flow from the bank Sunday, after two days and a morning of testing the waters in his deck canoe.

“I think there’s a lot of potential here,” Kelly-Rand said.

Kelly-Rand said he volunteered to participate in the three-day study, and FirstLight put him and others up at the Barton Cove campground. Kelly-Rand said there were two good features on the river for white water boaters — the rock dam and ledges upstream near the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge, and a long stretch in between.

Howard said FirstLight had reached out through stakeholder groups and recruited a range of boats and boaters to test the dam, with about 20 on the water Saturday and Sunday and 30 Monday. Howard said the company had coordinated with TransCanada, which owns dams upstream, to keep water levels normal above the dam for other boaters.

Norman Sims of Winchester, formerly of Greenfield, was on hand as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club, one of the outdoor groups advocating for more concessions from the power company as it seeks a fresh license to operate on the public river.

“It seems to be well worth it. People have had a tremendous amount of enjoyment here the last few days,” Sims said of the white water potential.

Sims said he has been involved in hydroelectric relicensing for 25 years, and was hopeful for some degree of future white water use.

“We would expect to see some scheduled releases, the question is, how many?” Sims said.

“All we want them to do is provide some recreation in exchange for their use of the water,” he said.

Boaters put in by the Great Falls Discovery Center on Avenue A, and took out at the end of Poplar Street in Montague City.

A team of raft guides from Crab Apple Whitewater were among the boaters on the water Monday.

“It was great. High water. High like we don’t see it in the summertime,” said Frank Mooney, 46, of Charlemont. “We’re a bunch of raft guys who took a day off.”

Mooney said he would love to see scheduled releases and some more business spring up in the area.

Ryan Mooney, 18, another guide in the family company, said Saturday and Sunday weren’t an option because the business was busy with 200 or 300 customers, many of whom come to the area from eastern Massachusetts.

Howard said the three days had gone well, with everyone safe and apparently enjoying themselves. Howard said he isn’t a boater, but the section of river seemed usable. “It certainly looks like there’s some potential here,” he said.

Boaters were asked to fill out forms evaluating the stretch of river. Howard said FirstLight has hired a company to survey users of its existing facilities and comments and questions can be sent through the “Contact Us” section of the relicensing website:

www.northfieldrelicensing.com

Swimmers were also in evidence Monday at the rock dam, an area used by some locals but where swimmers have drowned in the past. Howard said there are no plan to evaluate the potential for swimming.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

I taught myself to kayak on this stretch about 35 years ago when I was 17 and have paddled it many many times ever since. After visiting artificial whitewater courses like the Olympic versions in Germany and England, I have always thought that the land between the canal and river would make an incredible whitewater park....just a dream.

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