Float your boat
Looking to escape? Start with a kayak & Barton Cove
Barton Cove Bald Eagle
On an April 15 kayak trip, I took a break in the calm waters behind a boulder, and admired the French King Bridge before launching myself into the eddying currents ahead of me and floating back downstream.
Recorder photographer Paul Franz found time to fish between shots on our Tuesday trip to Barton Cove. Here, he shows off a largemouth bass he landed.
Ever since I moved to Franklin County in 2010 and started to explore its rivers from the shore, I’ve wanted to get out on the water.
Thing is, boats cost money. Or do they?
I had a small fishing boat, but my 8-foot plastic Bass Hunter and its puny electric trolling motor were more suited to placid ponds than roaring rivers. Looking at that boat on a warm day in late March, I had an idea.
I could trade it.
So, I went online and posted an ad: My boat for your kayak.
I was inundated with replies. A few people wanted to buy it outright, others wanted to trade me car stereo equipment and other assorted things that don’t float, and two offered their canoes for my boat.
I wanted something I could take out solo, on the spur of the moment. I had an image of myself, floating alone in a canoe, at the whim of the whipping wind as I strove for shore. It didn’t seem like much fun.
Then, a man from Monson emailed me. He was willing to give me his 8-foot Coleman kayak, a paddle and $100 cash for my little beat-up boat. So, we exchanged numbers, and, on the first Sunday in April, met in Greenfield to barter for boats.
I bought my Bass Hunter a few years ago, along with a similar flat plastic boat that I later scrapped, and paid $50 for the lot. At the time, the keeper’s hull was riddled with cracks large and small. I drilled a hole in the top of the boat and drained out the water, cleaned up the hull and set to work with some fiberglass cloth, a can of two-part resin and a few cheap brushes — less than $30 worth of materials.
So, with the trade, I recouped my $80 investment, got a free kayak and paddle, and $20 in cash to boot.
That $20 went toward a $30 life vest, a must-have for everyone, and I scrounged up another $10 for a big floppy hat, a necessity for a bald guy like me. In the end, I had a kayak and all the essentials, and was down only $20.
I think I made out pretty well.
I’d gotten a couple good summers out of that old Bass Hunter on my home turf of Wymans Pond in Westminster. Worcester County is pockmarked with lakes and ponds and I often threw my Bass Hunter into my old pickup and set off for adventure, dragging the heavy boat from the truck to the shore and back later.
My kayak is light and easy to carry; I just heft it onto my shoulder and walk it to the water. I’d particularly wanted one since I’d seen how maneuverable they are and how effortlessly they seem to cut through the water. I got a look at this last Fourth of July, when I was part of a flotilla of more than a dozen tubes on Deerfield River.
Several of us, myself included, were flung from our tubes at one point or another and everyone ran over a rock or two. As I watched Shawn Billings of Shelburne Falls in his kayak zipping around the rocks and through the rapids, I thought to myself, “Gee, this would be a lot easier in one of those.”
Well, now I’ve got one, but before I tackle any rapids, I’m going to need to get comfortable with my new craft.
To do so, I’ve been taking it out for some solo paddles, mostly on the calm waters of Barton Cove on the Connecticut River.
Barton Cove is a beautiful place, serene of both sight and spirit, teeming with wildlife. Just outside the county hub of Greenfield, it’s minutes away, but feels miles from the waiting world.
Where to launch
Barton Cove is accessible from a few spots in Gill. There’s the public boat ramp, off Route 2, and the shore of the Barton Cove Campground about 500 feet east of the ramp. Between the two lies Barton Cove Recreation Area, where canoes, kayaks, paddles and life vests are available for rent. There’s also a little trail to the shore on the way to the campground’s parking lot. Look for a pullout area on the right. You can launch there, too.
If you’re coming from the east, the campground is on the left side of Route 2, 2.3 miles after the French King Bridge. If you pass the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, you’ve driven by all three access points. Turn around.
From the west, the boat ramp is a half-mile past the stoplight at the Gill-Montague Bridge.
My first float on the cove was a leisurely one and I launched from the shore of the campground. I’d paddle a bit, drift a while and paddle some more, staying out of the channel’s current, winding my way between the cove’s islands.
I brought along my fishing rod and tackle box, but they were of little use. Every time I stopped paddling, my keel-less craft started to veer off course. I decided to do most of this year’s fishing from shore. Instead, I watched the swans fly low across the water, slapping its surface with their wing tips.
After a couple hours of aimless exploring and taking in the sights, I set a course for dry land and dragged my kayak back to my car.
I felt renewed. Out on the water, every worldly worry melted away. My usually restless mind went blank; I could, for once, stop thinking about work, household chores, bills, car problems — you name it, none of it mattered.
Waiting for sunset
My most recent time out on the cove was a little more lively. Spring was in full swing Tuesday evening and photographer Paul Franz and I were treated to quite the show as we paddled around the cove waiting for sunset.
Between photos, Franz cast a spinner bait into the shallow water, riddled with stumps, logs and other cover. He caught himself two large-mouthed bass, one a nice two-pounder and a couple of pumpkinseeds. These he let go. There are advisories about eating some fish taken from the river, so Franz prefers catch-and-release in the cove.
The water was alive, and so was the air. We watched as a crow chased a hawk through the air, nipping at its tail feathers. A mallard duck came in for a landing, adding to the birds scattered across the water’s surface.
Swans dipped their long necks into the water, then came back up, swallowing small fish whole.
Two geese and their goslings swam by the bigger of two islands, as another family of geese waddled to the edge of the shore and set out for a swim.
Overhead, a bald eagle perched on a high branch, surveying all his domain. As we approached, he launched into the air and, for a moment, flew directly over us before hooking a left and circling to the other side of the island.
Regrettably, I didn’t have my own camera on me at the time. If you’ve got one you don’t mind risking, I highly recommend taking it out on the water with you. A cheap dry bag can help keep it safe between shots.
French King Bridge paddle
Though my flat-water floats are leisurely, I occasionally like to push myself and get a good workout.
“I’m going to paddle all the way upstream to the French King Bridge,” I told myself one mid-April day. I figured I could head upriver until I ran out of steam, and, exhausted, float back with the current.
It was, in a word, challenging, but nothing good comes easily.
I loaded up my little cooler with plenty to drink, grabbed a bag full of apples and bananas for a snack on the water and lashed my little Coleman kayak to my Jeep’s roof rack.
I got to the cove, threw my cooler, vest and paddle into my kayak, then slung it over my shoulder and walked to a little shallow spot to launch. I cleared the peninsula of the campground, entered the river proper and pitted myself against its current.
It was a lot more strenuous than my trips around the cove, but no less scenic. My average speed upriver was just under 2 miles per hour, though at times I put my paddle down and lifted my camera to capture the wildlife and landscapes before me. I also pulled ashore a couple times to rest.
In all, it took me about 21∕2 hours to make it four miles upstream to the bridge. I could have walked that distance faster.
Though there were some stretches of near-still water, there were a few other points where, I admit, I nearly gave up. These were mostly where the river narrowed and the current strengthened.
The point where I came closest to quitting came just a few 100 feet before the bridge came into sight. I had come to a point where a trickle of water flowed from a ledge into the river. I noted its position, set my eyes forward and began to paddle my hardest. I got more than a bit discouraged when I looked for my landmark a few minutes later and realized I’d made no progress whatsoever.
I lifted my camera, took a picture of my surroundings and imagined the caption: “This is where I gave up.”
Just as I was about to turn around and coast back at the mercy of the current, I noticed that the water looked eerily still on the other side of the river. So, I cut across and found it to be easy going upstream, right up until just below the point where the Millers River enters the Connecticut and the bridge comes into view. I’d made my destination.
I found shelter from that confluence of currents behind a rock outcropping. There, I sat and took in the view and snapped a couple photos before I launched the kayak nose-first into the current. Drifting through the eddies, my tiny craft spun as it was caught between the still and rushing waters. Once I straightened out and caught up with the current, I checked my GPS.
I was drifting back at 4 mph, though it tapered off as I got farther downstream from the converging rivers. I barely paddled on the return trip, went ashore once or twice, and still made it back to my car in 90 minutes.
All the way up and back down the river, there wasn’t another soul in sight, unless you count the waterfowl. Sure, this solitude could have spelled trouble had I capsized in the ice-cold early April waters, but it made for one relaxing ride.
Though I found the experience refreshing, it was a lot of exercise. I don’t count calories, but the free EndoMondo app on my phone, which measures and maps a variety of activities, does. According to it, I burned more than 1,700 calories on my trip — and it doesn’t take body weight, current or other factors into account.
Though workouts like that are fun, I’m really in it for the relaxation and, more often than not, I’m just out for a peaceful pleasure cruise.
If you want to go ...
The early season is especially quiet at Barton Cove. Before the now-open boat ramp gate is unlocked, it’s rare to see anyone making wake in a motorboat. By the end of May, the ramp is open, as well as the campground and boat rentals, and people from all over come to enjoy the warm weather.
Barton Cove Campground, run by FirstLight, opens May 24 and will be open until Labor Day weekend. Reservations for its 29 campsites may now be made by calling
413-863-9300 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Canoe and kayak rentals will be available starting May 25, river conditions permitting.
Though Barton Cove offers a great place for a flat-water float or a quick round trip, lots of other opportunities are available for those who can take two vehicles for a one-way trip.
Lash your tent to your craft and launch from Pauchaug Brook in Northfield and you can cruise down the Connecticut River to Munn’s Ferry Campground. Accessible only by boat, campsites are available through the above number for Barton Cove Campground.
After a night’s rest, you can launch again and head the rest of the way to Barton Cove. If you’d like to go farther downstream, you can pull out at the rental area and call 413-659-3761 to have FirstLight pick you and your craft up and drop you off below the Turners Falls dam.
They’ll drop you off at the end of Poplar Street in Montague, right by the rail-trail footbridge. From there, it’s clear sailing past Deerfield, Sunderland, Hadley and Northampton, right up until the Holyoke dam.
That’s a stretch of river I haven’t paddled yet, but it’s on my list. I think I’ll just do sections, though — it’s more than 35 miles altogether.
Hands-down, my kayak is the best investment I’ve made in quite a while; I’d highly recommend it. Though you may not find one for free like me, there are plenty of used ones out there and some basic models are affordable brand new.
I hope to get out on the water as often as I can this year, whether it’s a weekend excursion or a quick trip to the cove before work. Maybe I’ll see you out there.
Staff reporter David Rainville has worked at The Recorder since 2011. He covers Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
413-772-0261, ext. 279.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261,
ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.