Hackensack River Canoe &
Springtime in Connecticut
by Bob Rancan
May 23, 2006
The rocky streams and rivers of western Connecticut are fun to paddle in the spring. In most years, snowmelt, ground thaw and April showers make mid-March to late April the season. Not 2006: no rain fell in March and most of April's total fell in one mid-month weekend. May began with early drought warnings but in the second week lots of water came down across New England.
I made three trips to Connecticut this spring: two on the Shepaug and one on the Housatonic. We put an early April club date on the Shepaug because the water level is usually just right. This year the gauge at Peter's Dam in Woodville read 1.42 feet (59cfs), a low reading but most times downstream feeders such as the Bantam River and Bee Brook boost the flow. Our trip proved the historical record. It is called the Shepaug because to the Native Americans the term meant "rocky stream." Robyn Lowenthal and I tested the resiliency of her Prospector's hull on most of the rocks in the riverbed. I believe Phil Brown and Jason Cook found their fair share as well. Also, cold drizzle turned into some sleet and driving snow before noon. It was nice after lunch though. The other good news was that we spotted a beaver, pairs of black ducks, a Carolina wren and many groups of phoebes, probably the males migrating through together.
During the week prior to our March 13th trip to the Housatonic, I kept an eye on the gauge at Falls Village, below the hydro station. It remained below mean levels for that time of year, averaging between 860 and 880cfs. The power company releases on a "run of river" basis nowadays, meaning that there may or may not be enough water to paddle as they generate -- no more empty river/full river releases. I was concerned because there was about half of the flow of my previous trips. It began to rain on Friday morning and kept coming. By the end of the weekend there were major floods from Massachusetts to Maine and the Housatonic rose as well. It hit 1780cfs by 6PM Friday, 2530cfs around midnight and 3180 by 7AM Saturday. We were on the river at 10:45 at Housatonic Meadows State Park and the Falls Village reading was 3700cfs. It finally peaked about 3:30 at 3950cfs. But, this rocky section of river was washed out by the high water. We sped along and finished the nearly 10 miles in less than three hours paddling time. The high waves at old Swift's Bridge were impressive but we were running way above most of the boulders the rest of the time. Jeff Bowen, Harris Reinstein, Bob May, Tom DeAngelis and I had lunch on the Appalachian Trail, chatted with AT trail maintainers and heard and saw lots of birds, including yellow warblers, a northern parula, kingbirds, kingfishers and phoebes.
It kept raining so Bob May, Michelle Paradiso and I went back to Connecticut the following week. On May 20th, with high water (2.27 - 289cfs) at Peter's Dam, we put in the Bantam River at Romford and went through the Class II section of the Shepaug and down through the Washington to Roxbury run, about 14 miles in all. The first part was fast with bigger waves than I had experienced there before. We moved along too quickly to birdwatch but there was lots of activity. At lunch, I had an ovenbird, veery, wood thrushes and a magnificent scarlet tanager. Yellow warblers, phoebes, kingbirds, Baltimore orioles and Common mergansers filled the riverbanks in the afternoon.
At 73 and 84 miles from my home, these western Connecticut streams are fine destinations for me. It all depends on rainfall but when things are right, the New England scenery, Litchfield Hills and farmsteads make these places my favorites.