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On The Trail: Open the gate


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A day late and a dollar short, it’s time to include me in the chorus of support for Paul Luippold’s plea to reopen the old, padlocked boat-access just downstream from Stillwater Bridge.

Luippold’s written complaint — dated May 1 and addressed to two local news companies, a chief of police and two state politicians — arrived in my inbox last week when I was preoccupied with the death of my father. A day or two later, the story hit local television news and created quite a local stir, with public support showing up in many different forms.

At issue is a padlocked gate denying access to an easy, popular boat-launch site for canoeists, boaters, kayakers and rafters that existed long before my day. I myself often used the site when I lived in my hometown of South Deerfield. I’d typically arrive before first light with my 14-foot, fiberglass Old Town canoe secured to the top of my vehicle, often with black-Lab companion Sugarloaf Saro Jane sitting anxiously in the passenger’s seat. I’d quickly untie the canoe, take it down, load it up with equipment and paddle upstream to start fishing Johnson’s Hole before the birds started singing. After a few hours, I’d paddle back to the car, picking my spots to stop and fish along the way back.

Many other boaters and rafters then used the sight as a boat launch and parking area, though not nearly as many as in recent years. Historically, the site was used primarily by anglers, and I honestly can’t recall people ever jumping off Stillwater Bridge as they have in recent years. Then again, there was no need to daredevil dive off Stillwater Bridge. Halifax (Vt.) Gorge was open to the public and drew an overflow crowd from many states on hot summer weekends.

Luippold blames sportsmen’s loss of Stillwater access to an unfortunate incident involving an intoxicated, naked, out-of-state man who drove his car off the road and crashed into a backwater there last August. Soon after that publicized incident, Luippold says the town repaired the damage and installed a locked gate to deny public access around the clock. Why, he asks, can’t the gate at least be opened days and closed at night?

Although there is another lesser-used launching site just upstream from the bridge — one that I myself occasionally used over the years when unable to park at my preferred site — Luippold complains that it’s a young-man’s launch, too dangerous for the elderly and/or disabled. Although I can’t say I’ve inspected that path in recent years, I do remember it as steep and potentially treacherous in wet weather many anglers prefer for fishing. So, yes, using it could place determined old geezers and/or disabled folks in jeopardy of personal harm.

There must be a way to solve this issue by re-establishing at least partial access to the popular boat-launch as Luippold proposes. Although even that is far too controlled for my personal taste and would definitely interfere with devoted anglers who prefer to fish early and late, partial access is better than none.

For the record: I guess I was a little inaccurate in last week’s tribute to my late dad when I said Greenfield High School played in the elite AA Conference against the biggest teams western Massachusetts had to offer — teams such as Holyoke, Wesfield, Chicopee and the Springfield schools.

Well, I ran into “Duke of Sports” Mike Cadran out running near my home and he informed me that there were no leagues in my dad’s day. All the high schools played independent schedules, and Greenfield’s Carl “Ump” Nichols always scheduled the biggest, baddest WMass schools, plus annual foes from eastern and central Mass., and even New York State. The best record among the schools playing a “large-school schedule” was crowned WMass champ, no tourneys, no divisions, no votes or coaches’ or newspaper polls. He said leagues like the AA Conference came into being in the 1950s.

I would not question Cadran. I have for many years witnessed and admired his enthusiasm for local-sports history as he punishes himself in the microfilm room. On the other hand, my description of the schedule Greenfield played, and the school’s WMass titles in my dad’s day (1944 through 1946) were generally accurate in a big picture/contemporary context.

Cadran didn’t blink when I told him I have over the years heard many of my dad’s contemporaries sing praise of his basketball prowess. Plus, I told him, I once witnessed him put on a memorable, impromptu shooting exhibition at Nook Burniske’s old Silver Street, Greenfield home. I think it was the only time I ever saw him shoot a basketball, and he couldn’t miss.

That didn’t surprise Cadran, who informed me that, “Greenfield only lost one game his senior year ... to Waltham.”

On the other hand: Old pal Roger “Hezekiah” Ward of Buckland chimed in to defend my reference a few weeks back to April 15th being the traditional opening day of Massachusetts trout season.

A reader and neighbor took exception to the misinformation, stating that I should have remembered opening day always opened on the third Saturday in April, not April 15, and I accepted his correction.

Although I don’t intend to embark on an intense research mission to get to the bottom of this trivial controversy, Ward, a generation older than my friendly critic, wrote to support my original assertion:

“You were right on the money with April 15 being opening day for trout fishing in Massachusetts. I remember when I was a kid, trout was April 15 and pheasant was October 20, unless the 20th came on Sunday.”

That behind us, “Heze” (pronounced Hezzie) launched into his memories of the 1959 Deerfield River Reclamation Project, a rotenone poisoning of the river to rid it of trash fish in the name of trout management:

“What stands out is the very small amount of trout that showed up in the southern section down here (Buckland). I’m not sure about the northern section. The river had a lot of things going against it, not only was it one of the largest open air sewers in New England, there were also many industrial contaminants emptying into it. On State Street in Buckland, there were five gas stations, four of which did mechanical work, and guess where the byproduct ended up? The Federal clean water act really helped the river. The river is now a good put-and-take trout waterway. As far as being a good natural trout river, forget it. The water gets way to warm in the summer. If it was a good river for trout, huge trout would survive and you’d be catching 5- and 10-pounders, considering the size they are stocking.”

So there you have — a little dose of hilltown wisdom from a credible old-timer and astute observer.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.