State-owned boat ramps reopen on Conn. River after storm-related closures


Staff Writer

Published: 08-07-2023 6:31 PM

Connecticut River boat access points in Gill and Sunderland are among the six state-owned locations that have reopened following storm-necessitated closures in July, the state Department of Fish and Game announced Monday.

Gill’s Barton Cove boat launch and Sunderland’s School Street access point, along with four other locations spanning Hampshire and Hampden counties, were declared open on Monday following efforts to clear sediment and debris from each site. According to the Department of Fish and Game, “facilities were closed on July 12 due to extremely high water levels and unsafe conditions on the river caused by flooding and subsequent large rainstorms in the following weeks.”

The remaining location in Franklin County, Pauchaug Boat Ramp off Route 63 in Northfield, is the only state-owned Connecticut River boat access point to remain closed, as an inspection on Monday revealed a buildup of silt and debris that will likely take a couple weeks to clear, according to Northfield Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III.

To have each site ready to reopen, the Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Fishing and Boating Access removed trees and other obstructions, and has temporarily stockpiled sediment in parking areas. Erosion control barriers are in place and sediment will need to be tested for contaminants prior to off-site disposal in the coming weeks.

“The flooding of the river brought significant sediment buildup, downed trees and other debris to the boat ramps and parking lots,” Office of Fishing and Boating Access Director Doug Cameron said in a statement. “The series of rainstorms in the weeks following the initial flooding contributed to continued high water at the boat ramps that made it impossible to fully assess facility conditions and substantially complete cleanup until last week.”

In Hampshire County, the access points that reopened are the Oxbow Ramp on Route 5 in Easthampton, which last month had been underwater, and the ramp off Main Street in Hatfield. Farther south, there are two more access points in Chicopee. Private marinas, too, are getting their boat ramps reopened.

According to Dunnell, all seven boat access facilities were supposed to be reopened Monday, but workers observed a fallen tree and shallow water levels by the Northfield ramp that would not permit safe entry into the water.

“They have cleared the turnaround and some of the ramp, but their concern is that there’s a significant silt buildup where the ramp accesses the river,” he said.

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Further work, which is overseen by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and will include moving the tree and silt, could extend into late August, depending on contractor ability, he reported. Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Tom O’Shea said the Northfield site will likely require dredging, which requires an emergency permit from the town Conservation Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection. The launch will be reopened once the water achieves its normal depth.

Reopening Barton Cove was a much less intensive process, O’Shea said. The boat ramp was in “better shape than all of them,” he said, explaining that high water levels were what impeded access up until a week or two ago.

“Once that water level started to go down, then we could really assess the site,” he recalled, noting that the assessment revealed minimal debris buildup.

The Department of Fish and Game encourages boaters to remain cautious when on the water, even when launching from access points deemed safe.

“Flooding in the Connecticut River in July has significantly increased hazards in the river, including trash and other debris, trees, docks, submerged vessels, rocks and sand bars,” Massachusetts Environmental Police Col. Shaun Santos said in a statement. “While the boating access facilities are now safe to reopen, we still advise mariners to be extremely cautious on the water, as there are also significant changes to channels, landmarks, river currents and bank erosion.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or