Parking regs help curb Deerfield River overcrowding in Charlemont

  • A group of people with tubes wait for the water release at Zoar Picnic Area on the Deerfield River in Charlemont on Thursday. New parking regulations are being enforced to help curb overcrowding on the weekends. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2020 4:07:14 PM

CHARLEMONT — Officials say there has been a decline in overcrowding at the Deerfield River after just one weekend with new restrictions in place.

State and local agencies recently implemented methods for preventing overcrowding in and along the Deerfield River. This included installing “No Parking” and “Live Parking Only” signs at rest areas along the river, and an increased presence of State Police at popular access points.

“It’s an important first step,” Charlemont Selectboard member Marguerite Willis said Monday.

Willis said she and fellow Selectboard members had never heard of the term “live parking” before last week, but the new rules have made a quick impact. The “live parking” signs, designating areas where people have to stay with their vehicles, were posted at the Shunpike Rest Area on Route 2 last week. “No parking” signs were also posted and more signs, which are being provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), are expected to be posted along the highway as well.

It was also determined that State Police would play an active role in enforcing restrictions on river access. Willis said State Police this weekend could be found at the Shunpike Rest Area and Zoar Picnic Area to control parking and to help local officers patrol the roads. 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.

“It was highly successful,” Willis said of the weekend. “We’re most appreciative of the support we got.”

According to Doug Telling, co-chair of the Charlemont Board of Health, the issue of overcrowding had been exacerbated by the lasting COVID-19 public health emergency.

Charlemont Police Chief Jared Bellows last week said he planned to increase his department’s patrol presence. Bellows said his department received a number of calls from residents who were concerned by the lack of social distancing happening in and along the river, and the number of people allegedly not wearing masks during a previously busy weekend.

“We’re just a small town that’s not prepared to have five times its population come in one day,” Willis said.

Willis noted that local rafting companies are operating at limited capacities, and that they are doing a good job of following rules for health safety. Willis said that even if the recreational companies weren’t operating, individuals have discovered access points to the river on their own.

According to Willis, there have been instances where residents have confronted people exiting the river and trespassing onto their properties. She said there have been occasions where the trespassers have either threatened or physically struck the property owners.

Police Chief Bellows could not be reached for comment by press time on Monday.

Residents wanted to discuss the river access topic during Sunday’s Annual Town Meeting, but officials did not wish to stray from the meeting warrant. Willis said the Selectboard expected to continue conversations regarding river access and public safety during Monday night’s Selectboard meeting.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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