Lange: River Trail

Aug 28, 2014

The silver maple likes to get its feet wet. It grows in groves along silty river banks, hanging over the water. When it dies, or is undermined by the river, it often falls into the water. During floods, the river flows through its groves, easing the pressure on the valley below; and when the floods subside, they leave fresh layers of silt behind.

The other day, about forty of us gathered in a circle in a silver maple grove beside the Connecticut River in the town of Lemington to dedicate a new campsite. Lemington’s a blinker: Blink, and you’re through it. But Lemington, as well as the towns above it and below, from Canaan all the way down to Lunenberg, boasts beautiful, level bottom land.

The new campsite is part of a conservation easement to a group of “trail partners.” The Vermont River Conservancy helped make the legal arrangements, installed a picnic table and other amenities, and arranged a dedication ceremony. We were there to pay tribute to the owner’s generosity and vision and afterward paddle downriver to a designated takeout, where we’d find snacks, more fellowship, and a keg of beer.

Canoeists paddling down the new Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail can now pretty much count on an approved place to camp each night as they travel from near the headwaters all the way to the Massachusetts border. They can follow a new map of the valley that shows the campsites, adds remarks about the type of paddling they’ll encounter as they go, and shows all the access points and portage paths along the way.

My friend Bob and I drove up to attend the ceremony and then paddle down the river with the flotilla.

One issue concerning these easements is that of casual use by picnickers and partiers, who have less of a stake in a relationship with landowners than paddlers who need a campsite at the end of a day. So frequent volunteer work parties clean up messes, install or repair tables and privies, or fence off fragile natural features. Recreation is one of the most damaging uses of natural open lands.

The river was low that day. Bob and I threaded through lots of rocks and snags. The river meandered between silty banks, and a lovely tailwind helped us. Quiet fishermen were anchored here and there; nobody held up any fish or showed much excitement. But just as I’d feared it would, my first-day paddling muscle roused from its recent inactivity and began complaining. I fed it some naproxen, stopped a couple of times to stretch, and we soldiered on. “Quit,” thankfully, is not in Bob’s vocabulary.

Finally we spotted the takeout: a high bank with people helping paddlers haul their boats and gear up to a grassy parking spot. We made our usual graceful landing. Typically, Bob sloshes back from the front to help me get up, then holds me upright while I try the first couple of steps toward dry land. But the mud was slick. Bob’s feet slipped out from under him, he pulled hard on my hand, and we ended up in a comic mud-wrestling match, with Bob on the bottom. By god! I thought as we flailed away, I hope that beer is cold!

This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.