River group raises funds for weekend patrols

CHARLEMONT — The Deerfield River Forum has raised nearly $12,000 from local citizens and businesses to allow for increased Charlemont Police patrols on the Deerfield River during summer weekends.

Included in this total is up to $7,500 in matching funds from Brookfield Renewable Energy Group, owner of the Bear Swamp and Fife Brook hydropower facilities on the Deerfield River.

According to Polly Bartlett, Deerfield River Forum spokesperson and a director of the Deerfield River Watershed Association, the town is still accepting donations for the increased police patrols on the river. Donation checks can be made out to Town of Charlemont (include “river patrol” in the memo line).

“With Brookfield’s matching donation and the money generously donated by concerned citizens and businesses, we hope to make this stretch of the Deerfield River a safer place to recreate,” added Bartlett.

Also, the Charlemont Police Department will have a mobile trailer stationed at Brookfield’s Zoar Picnic Area; the trailer will house Wear It! Deerfield River safety literature and Wear It! temporary tattoos for children, along with other water safety collateral.

The “Wear It!” river safety campaign refers to the wearing of life jackets when canoeing, kayaking or river-tubing. This campaign is part of the group’s effort to raise awareness of safer use of the river.

The national Wear It! program, started by the National Safe Boating Council, is designed to promote responsible and safety boating and the options that are available when it comes to comfortable and lightweight life jackets. The Wear It! Deerfield River campaign is an off-shoot of this.

The police trailer was donated by Paul Fantucchio, owner of Mohawk Park Campground and Pub in Charlemont.

Deerfield River Forum members include concerned residents and businesses, mostly from Charlemont and surrounding Deerfield River communities, local and state government officials and agencies, and organizations that represent whitewater boaters from throughout the region. The Wear It! Deerfield River developed the following common sense safety messages and river rules for recreation enthusiasts near and far — and on land and in the waters — to enable everyone to share the rivers safely:

No alcohol, no glass; always wear a life jacket. Always were a life jacket. No littering — lug out what you lug in. Stay alert for hidden hazards on land and water. Respect all landowners, do not trespass. Respect all river users. Keep our waterways safe and clean year-round for all to enjoy.

Over the years, townspeople have discussed how to welcome visitors who come here for river recreation while stopping bad or unsafe behavior on the river.

Common complaints about these visitors over the years have ranged from trespassers on privately owned riverfront land, to illegal parking, the lack of public restrooms, littering and people drinking alcohol while on the river.

This year, besides the Deerfield River Forum, the Great Outdoors sporting goods shop has started a parking area and shuttle service for river tubers.

The whitewater rafting companies are legally permitted to serve up to a combined 320 rafters and kayakers per day; their customers are furnished with life jackets and safety gear.

But hundreds of river-tubers may come on a hot day, looking for places where they can put in a kayak, canoe or river tube.

In an informal survey two years ago, Crab Apple Whitewater employees counted 743 river users in one day. Only 60 wore life jackets and alcohol was visible in at least 100 cases — not counting coolers, where the contents could not be seen.

Crab Apple manager Frank Mooney told selectmen that, when he first came to Charlemont, only about 100 people a day were using the river. “We are now doubling the population of the town on a good Saturday, on a four-mile stretch of the river.”

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