Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Housatonic River
West Cornwall to Swifts Bridge, CT
by Bob Rancan

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On Sunday, I was reading the messages pertaining to being in the woods during hunting season and I thought I would write a trip report to share an experience in a true mixed-use area.

A good amount of rain fell late last week so Henry Degenhardt and I made a trip up to the Housatonic River in northwest Connecticut. The river was running well before the storm as the power plants at Falls Village and Gaylordsville were generating during the week. On Friday, the storm lingered in New England longer than at home so the feeder streams kept adding to the Housatonic’s large watershed. As we got started the Falls Village gauge registered 4.10, 1700cfs and Gaylordsville, downstream, was well over 1900cfs. The Falls Village gauge ranged from 1680 to 1740cfs while we were on the river and I guess the fluctuation was due to the electric station’s output.

We paddled a little over 7 miles, from above the covered bridge in West Cornwall to the rapids at the ruins of Swifts Bridge where the Appalachian Trail leaves the river. The beautiful valley through which the river runs is an interesting mix of riverside homes (any of which I’d love to own, especially the converted railroad station), a historic covered bridge, parks and state lands. Housatonic Meadows State Park on the west bank is known for it’s campground and fishing access and acres of State Game Lands line the east bank. The public makes use of these lands. I saw some kayakers below Kent but Henry and I had the upstream miles to ourselves, meaning we were the only boaters playing in the eddies and riding the waves.

However, we were not alone. This section of river is a fine trout stream and is a fly-fishing, no kill section. All fish must be released. We saw many fishermen, some wading, some on the bank, several in inflatable pontoon boats and four in a fine looking river dory.

Walking along the railroad tracks on the east bank were multiple pairs of hunters in their blaze orange hats/vests. They carried shotguns and I’m assuming they were after small game or turkey. They use the tracks to access the woods and fields to the east while the river and west bank are the domains of the boaters, fishermen and further down, many hikers on the Appalachian Trail. I felt no unease at being there but Henry did remember to bring his blaze orange watch cap. My boat and life jacket are green now but my composite paddle has a bright orange blade. Remember your blaze orange or be as bright and colorful as you can in late fall. These state areas that accommodate fishing and hunting have strict rules but be very visible and obvious anyway.

Oh, we did disturb and annoy one lone hunter who did not want to leave northwest Connecticut in November: an osprey, who has no use for either canoes nor the catch and release thing. Technically, I guess they are the real fishermen.