ROCKINGHAM, Vermont âEnvironmental and outdoor recreation groups are mobilizing citizens and recreation enthusiasts to demand greater investment from Great River Hydro and other Connecticut River dam operators in recreational river accesses before factories do not receive a new federal permit.
On Saturday, July 17, the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), American Whitewater and other recreation partners will host Portage, Paddle and Parade, an educational public event along the Bellows Falls Dam for show the need for improvements to the portage, a land passage connected to the river falls to bypass Great River Hydro dam operations.
Great River Hydro created the portage to accommodate river recreation around its dam, as a condition of obtaining its operating permits. But that portage is the only access improvement Great River Hydro has made to date, according to river protection advocates, and their current federal permit renewal request – which could be approved at the end of this year – makes no mention of recreational enhancements.
Meanwhile, the portage is a “ridiculous” hike from North Walpole to Bellows Falls that requires canoeists and kayakers to navigate congested streets and along the shoulders of busy freeways, according to water recreation advocates.
Outdoor columnist Evan Johnson, in an article titled “Rolling on the River” (July 19, 2016, published by Vermont Sports), described his introduction to Bellows Falls portage in heartbreaking detail.
“The next hour was in pouring rain with the seats of the canoe tipped over propped up over our heads,” Johnson wrote. âThe driver of a small Toyota pickup with a red Mad River in the back threw his thumb up as we tripped over cracked sidewalks and knee-deep grass, the rain soaking our pants and our pants. shoes. A mile and a half has never been so long.
Advocates of the river say Great River Hydro’s renewal application does not specify any further improvements to portage or other river recreation and will likely make improvements only if federal regulators demand it.
“Excessively long portages around these dams and poorly maintained piers are examples of companies’ lack of investment in publicly accessible recreation,” said Kristen Sykes, director of conservation for the Appalachian Mountain Club. âOur local economies would be strengthened by functional and efficient access to rivers. The river offers incredible opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, boating, bird watching and quiet contemplation.
This fall, perhaps starting in August, citizens and river enthusiasts will have a “once in a generation” window of opportunity to speak up for the Connecticut River and call on dam operators to increase. their investments in recreational activities. Great River Hydro, which owns three of the five dams operated on the Connecticut River, is currently seeking to renew its operating license through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). These federal licenses last between 30 and 50 years, making this fall the only likely opportunity for the public to voice their concerns before a license is granted.
Part of the federal license review process includes a 60-day period for public comment, which is expected to open as early as next month, according to representatives from the Connecticut River Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
“If people do not speak out during the comment period, regulators will likely approve the plan proposed by the hydroelectric companies,” said Kathy Urffer, steward of the Connecticut River Conservancy.
The Conservancy, whose work to preserve the watershed ranges from environmental cleanups to facilitating fish migrations through dams, has actively followed the Great Hydro Connecticut River mill refurbishment process since early 2012. 2017, the organization surveyed communities and stakeholders in Vermont and New Hampshire. on their long-term vision and desires for the recreational use of the river.
Of central interest to partner organizations is the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail, a series of primitive campsites and river access points spanning 400 miles of the Connecticut River from the Canada-US border to Long Island Sound. . The river trail attracts canoeists and kayakers all over New England, who in turn contribute significantly to the local tourist economy.
But to capitalize on this asset will require a larger investment, Urffer told The Eagle Times. Great River Hydro, which controls much of the river through its factories, should be a key partner in this process.
Many ideas for improving the porting of Bellows Falls have been sent to the Federal Regulatory Commission, Urffer said. Great River Hydro could provide a shuttle to take paddlers and their boats to the next drop-off point, which could become the most likely solution. The hydropower plant could also consider a shorter portage that takes travelers through town, although such a plan would have to involve Rockingham, Vermont city officials and the historical society.
Other improvements could include signage or improving trails or amenities such as a rest area.
The portage, paddle and parade will begin at 11:00 am at the Pine Street boat launch in North Walpole. After a brief gathering at the launch to discuss the issues, participants will scroll through port 1.5.
For details on the event, visit the Connecticut River Conservancy event website at
https://bit.ly/36J4CmR. The event is scheduled to run until 12:30 p.m. and organizers say it will be family-friendly and wheelchair accessible.
To learn more about the Connecticut River Conservancy, visit ctriver.org.