West Branch Farmington River
by Bob Rancan
June 1, 2003
The "Wild & Scenic" section of the Farmington River - Riverton to New Hartford, CT
Many times, it is literally the rain that makes the trip. The West Branch of the Farmington in northern Connecticut is another captive body of water, with most of its flow penned up behind reservoirs in Massachusetts. There is a minimum daily flow of about 120 to 150 CFS that serves two purposes: to move water downstream for Hartford's consumption and to keep the cold water fishery stable. With just that minimal flow and a rocky streambed, a canoe trip in the summer would require a good deal of walking. However, there are some unfettered tributaries - the Mad River, the Sandy Brook and the Still River. When it rains, they pour. For example, on the day after a wet Memorial Day this year, the Still river added over 450 CFS to the Farmington to make for an excellent level of 639 CFS, on a Tuesday, of course!
Since we were planning to go up on the following Sunday, I kept an internet watch on the two gauges. Naturally, the level kept dropping, to 362 Thursday, 293 Friday and 261 as of Saturday morning. Keeping in mind that a scratchy minimum paddling level of 250 was about as low as I'd care to tackle, I hoped the forecast for rain was accurate. As they say in Australia, "no worries." It rained, rained harder and kept raining. By the time of our late morning put-in, the Farmington flow was up to 200 CFS and the Still, about 100 yards downstream of our starting point was adding approximately 850 to 875 CFS to the flow.
We had enough water to float the boats! With over 1000 CFS for the afternoon, it was a pleasure to paddle because the river did all the work. Sometimes, Class I to II streams get a lot easier when they come up (to a point, of course). There were a lot of spots where I could cheat, that is float over and around boulders where in past years I'd have to pick my way through and scrape over ledges and gravel bars.
Not only did the weather cooperate in dumping most of the water overnight, it gave us a steady, light rain with a warm enough temperature and no wind. That made it a great day for birding and, at least 3 beavers were out and about, probably trying to figure out where all that muddy water was coming from. A Bald Eagle, a pair of nesting American Redstarts, lots of yellow warblers and common yellowthroats and common merganser mothers with some of their broods on their backs were highlights. And flycatchers were having a field day. Barn swallows, tree swallows, cedar waxwings, phoebes, kingbirds and an Eastern pewee were observed.
We got a little wet, but that's what happens when it rains. The "Wild & Scenic" section of the Farmington River, Riverton to New Hartford, CT - worth the trip!