Popular river spot brings problems
Recorder file/Paul Franz
People keep cool on a hot day drifting down the Deerfield River in Deerfield. River traffic is leading to some parking problems and other behaviors that have required an increase in the police presence at Stillwater Bridge.
A group of people on inner tubes float down the Deerfield River near Mill Village Road in Deerfield
Cars are parked near Stillwater Bridge in Deerfield. Police have been responding more frequently to the area when things get out of hand.
Stillwater area where people congregate to swim and party
DEERFIELD — Lazy river tubing along the Deerfield River has become an increasingly popular pastime for local residents and out-of-towners, but it has also brought problems along Stillwater Road.
Since June, the Deerfield police have attempted to manage drinking, litter, illegal parking and other troublesome behavior from the influx of tubers along the Stillwater stretch of the river by scheduling an officer to patrol the area on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on any day where temperatures reach 85 degrees or higher.
This summer, Deerfield police have issued 93 parking tickets — 11 tickets in June and 82 tickets in July. The police have also received 92 calls and complaints for service to the Stillwater area from May 1 until Aug. 2 to address parking problems and littering. And on July 4, it responded to a complaint of motor vehicle larceny.
The increased amount of parking and people along Stillwater Road has caused many residents and farmers to complain, Deerfield Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. says.
“It’s created an excess volume of people and vehicles in the Stillwater area and it can’t handle the volume,” said Paciorek.
It has also become a nuisance with people drinking alcohol on the river, littering and indecent exposure, Paciorek said.
There were two instances involving intoxicated people who needed medical assistance that required a multi-agency response, according to Deerfield Police Officer Adam Sokoloski.
One of the those incidents on July 24 involved a two- hour search for a man who was reportedly unconscious on a rock on the banks of the Deerfield River. Firefighters from the Conway and Old Deerfield fire departments, as well as Deerfield and Baystate Health ambulance crews responded.
But it turned out the man was inebriated, sleeping on a rock. The man declined medical help. He was among a party of three drinking and tubing on the river.
This summer, Deerfield police and the Highway Department have also placed 17 additional “no parking” signs along Stillwater Road. No parking signs have lined the area for the past 10 years.
Part of the tubing boom in Deerfield can be attributed to Deerfield River Portage.
For five years, the small family business has transported people from Stillwater Bridge in Deerfield, the “take-out point,” to an upriver “put-in point.”
The tubing company sells people tubes for $55 at the beginning of the river ride. At the end of the trip, the company buys back the tube for $20.
Using a large van topped with black tubes, the company meets tubers by the public parking area near Stillwater Bridge. The company’s customers park their vehicles in the public parking spaces.
By 11 a.m., on most days the parking is filled, Sokoloski said.
“It’s hard with such limited parking for them to open a business without providing their own parking,” said Sokoloski.
In the two incidents that involved intoxicated people, the individuals had discovered the river and tubing through the Deerfield River Portage’s website and had rented tubes through the company, Sokoloski said.
“They have a very well done website. They offer a service that attracts people who may not have come to the area in the past,” Sokoloski said. “An influx of people causes extra drinking and extra littering.”
The problems have been persistent in past years with complaints of motor vehicle larcenies taking up much of the police’s priority last summer.
“There have been problems in the past,” said Sokoloski. “The chief has felt because we’ve had numerous complaints from people in the area, this year he decided to put an officer out there.”
This summer is Paciorek’s first as full-time police chief for Deerfield.
Staffing the area with officers has cost the police department $9,000 to $10,000.
The changes have helped to quell 90 percent of the problems, Paciorek contends.
“The changes are showing good results, but there are budgetary concerns,” Paciorek said. “Where is the money coming from?”
Because of the issues, the portage company and the town plan to discuss how to further reduce the problems that have cropped up since it started its business out of a backyard on Hoosac Road in Conway.
Interim Town Administrator Wendy Foxmyn has arranged a meeting on Wednesday between herself, the police department, health agent Richard Calisewski, and officials from Deerfield River Portage to discuss how the town can handle the influx of tubers and address public safety concerns.
“We’re working together to come to a mutually agreeable solution that benefits everyone,” said Foxmyn. “We want to know what they would like to do and how to make it work for safety and traffic and health code issues.”
“The Board of Selectmen would like to promote business and see how it can work,” Foxmyn added.
The business owners, Conway residents Daniel Canedy and Kate Clayton-Jones, are aware of the influx their business is bringing to the area from Providence, Boston and New York, Clayton-Jones said.
“We recognized the problems — the increase in vehicles and people not taking responsibility for anything in the Stillwater area,” said Clayton-Jones.
The company tries to prevent littering and encourage safety.
Deerfield River Portage offers life jackets and suggests the importance of knowing how to swim. However, the tubing company doesn’t tell people they can or can’t drink alcohol, since they find people will do what they want no matter what you tell them, Clayton-Jones said.
To reduce littering, the company offers to carry any litter away for its customers.
“We try to take as much responsibility as we can by providing solid tubes and safe vehicles. We adopted a philosophy of stewardship,” Clayton-Jones said.
Clayton-Jones said most of Deerfield River Portage’s customers come to relax on the river and they leave no footprint.
River use growing
Deerfield’s issue reflects a growing trend in Franklin County.
In Charlemont, the Deerfield River Forum recently raised nearly $12,000 from local citizens and businesses to allow for increased Charlemont police patrols on the Deerfield River during summer weekends.
The Charlemont Police Department also stationed a mobile trailer at Brookfield’s Zoar Picnic Area, where river tubers can find “Wear It!” Deerfield River safety literature. The “Wear It!” campaign encourages people to wear life jackets while canoeing, kayaking or river-tubing in an effort to raise awareness of safer use of the river.
Like Deerfield residents, townspeople in Charlemont in the past have complained of trespassers on privately owned riverfront land, illegal parking, rowdiness, littering and alcohol consumption on the river.
A local company, Great Outdoors sporting goods shop, has also brought more tubing business to the area, starting a shuttle service for river tubers this year.
The Charlemont whitewater rafting companies serve up to a combined 320 rafters and kayakers per day.
Part of the increasing interest in river tubing along the Deerfield River, Clayton-Jones said, can be attributed to the economy.
As the 2008 recession hit, Clayton-Jones said more people were looking for a cheap, fun way to spend time with friends.
“The tubing business is booming all over the place. We saw an opportunity to do it from our backyard,” said Clayton-Jones. “We are a pro-active conscientious business.
“We’re thrilled the business is growing and we realize we have problems. We want to work with everyone to make sure tubing stays safe and enjoyable.”