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State, local agencies address overcrowding at Deerfield River in Charlemont

  • A group of people with tubes wait for the water release from the dam upstream at the Zoar Picnic Area on the Deerfield River in Charlemont on Thursday. STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

  • Workers install no parking signs at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A pile of trash left by the Deerfield River at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 in Charlemont. Residents have complained about overcrowding, and subsequently trash being left behind, by visitors. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A group of people with tubes wait for the water release at Zoar Picnic Area on the Deerfield River in Charlemont on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Police brought in a sign to warn visitors that they must remain with their cars at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 in Charlemont. Residents have complained about overcrowding, and trash being left behind, right, by visitors to the access point on the Deerfield River.

  • Pizza boxes left at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 in Charlemont. Residents have complained about overcrowding along the Deerfield River, and subsequently trash being left behind, by visitors. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2020 4:34:43 PM

CHARLEMONT — State and local agencies are working to address concerns residents have raised regarding overcrowding in and along the Deerfield River.

“Having four, five times your population come to visit on one day is really hard,” said Charlemont Selectboard member Marguerite Willis.

Although overcrowding has been a concern for several years, the problem has become “more complex” with the public health concern raised by COVID-19, said Doug Telling, co-chair of the Charlemont Board of Health.

According to Telling, the Board of Health met via conference call with state and local agencies Wednesday to discuss the role they will each play in addressing the problem moving forward.

“The key takeaway from the meeting is that the State Police will play an active role,” Telling said in a statement. “This is huge and most appreciated.”

On Thursday, “no parking” signs were posted at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 and more signs, which are being provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation are expected to be posted along the highway as well. Visitors are also being advised there is only “live parking” allowed at the rest area, where people have to stay with their cars.

Telling said Massachusetts State Police plan to have officers at the Shunpike Rest Area and Zoar Picnic Area to control parking and to help local officers patrol the roads.

Additionally, Telling said, town officials will be asking local businesses to enforce the state mandates on facial coverings and to remind customers of those mandates as they enter town.

In anticipation of the warm weather ahead, Charlemont Police Chief Jared Bellows said he plans to increase his department’s patrol presence.

“(The concerns) are not being ignored,” Bellows said. “Everybody is doing what they can to try to make it safe … for everyone.”

The meeting Wednesday followed what the chief called an “extremely busy” weekend compared to most.

According to Bellows, the department received numerous calls from residents who were concerned about the lack of social distancing happening in and along the river, and the number of people allegedly not wearing masks.

“We try to keep people from getting too close to each other, and giving them information,” Bellows said, adding that state law does allow for fines to be issued if necessary.

Sgt. Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for Massachusetts State Police, said officers from the Shelburne barracks assisted Charlemont officers over the weekend with the crowds, as well as the vehicles on the road.

“I think it’s a problem that’s pretty much everywhere,” Bellows said. “I think we have a unique situation in that we have some great places to tube, and picnic areas and rest areas, so that draws more people in.”

But Willis said it isn’t just the various recreation sites drawing people to the area.

“When you get these heat periods … all you have to do is stand at the bridge and watch the cars coming in,” Willis said. “They have their own tubes.”

Local rafting companies, she added, are operating at a limited capacity in terms of how many customers they can serve.

“There’s social distancing,” Willis said of the rafting companies’ operations. “They abide by the laws.”

Kevin McMillan, general manager of Zoar Outdoor on Main Street, said he is aware of the concerns raised by residents and is willing to work with the town to address them.

“I think there’s a group of concerned citizens that are trying to figure out how to best address the issue,” said McMillan, who noted the past weekend was “exponentially” busier than ever before. “Obviously, we’re sort of on the sidelines of that process. We’re happy to help in any way we can.”

McMillan said he is operating at 50 percent capacity and that currently, only private tours are offered to families and close friend groups in accordance with pandemic-related state guidelines on gathering size.

Masks are expected to be worn anytime a guest is in an enclosed space or around other people, he said, and that includes on the bus, which is also only filled at 50 percent capacity. Windows on the bus stay open.

“This year, I think that with everybody itching to get outside ... It just seems like it’s at a different level at this point,” McMillan said.

After years of seeking outside help, Willis said she is feeling positive for the first time about the progress that’s being made to address the overcrowding problem.

“I really want to emphasize how pleased I am with the state’s actions coming forward,” Willis said. “State Police and MassDOT — it’s going to be a big help, a huge help.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.




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