bumknee

Too many people on the Conn. River

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I grew up on the Conn. River up in Claremont NH after we moved there when I was in 4th grade. My Dad had me on the Pemmigiwassut River in his Grumman canoe before we moved over to the border town of Claremont. I am familiar with the river from Lyme to Bellows Falls, so I can't speak personally of the river in Mass. I have been living in Mass since college, but up until my mother died in 2013, she always got me an out of state license for my birthday so I would come "home" and let her watch my dogs and daughter-bonus for her- while I fished the Conn. for huge smallies and the occaisonal walleye.

 

I have been in Webster since 2003. On Webster Lake, I have witnessed bass tournement boats blasting through the no wake zones between the ponds and hanging on trying not to tip while jet skis have have purposely come too close to send wakes at my canoe or kayak. while was inding my own business.

 

More recently, I was throwing my dog a stick at Waterfront Mary's in the morning before they opened, and a couple of jet skis came over to send a wave at my dog who was not that far out which almost had me going in after her. She is a black lab who is a great swimmer, but she is old now, and swimming is the way to get her exercise she can handle in this heat. This was mid morning on a weekday, and there was very little traffic at that time.

 

It reminded me of the times when we were on the east end of the canal down on the rocks at low tide when some boats would come over to send us scrambling sending waves at our set up chunking.

 

I know most of the posts here are related to a big man made ditch on the cape, with some allowances to the south shore, Boston, and north shore, but some perspective on another part of the state.

 

 

Police & Fire

‘There’s way too many people’: With more boat traffic than ever, Massachusetts Environmental Police and local officers team up to patrol Connecticut River

Today 5:30 AM
MEP Patrol

Massachusetts Environmental Police Sgt. Jerry Shampang patrols the Connecticut River Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

 
 
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ON THE CONNECTICUT RIVER — When he passes boaters, David Unaitis always makes it a point to wave, and he instructs others on his boat to do the same.

Unaitis, a lieutenant with the state Environmental Police who has spent his entire career patrolling woods and waterways in Western Massachusetts, tells the story from years ago when someone called the office to complain to a supervisor because an environmental officer on patrol failed to wave back when the boater waved hello.

“Now that I’m a supervisor, I don’t want anybody calling up because no one waved,” he says. “Make sure you wave.”

The waving, beyond being a gesture of goodwill and boating fraternity, also serves to remind the boaters that law enforcement is patrolling the river and everyone should operate their crafts responsibly. And, with more and more people taking to the Connecticut River than ever before, operating responsibly is the name of the game.

 

In his 26 years with the environmental police, Unaitis says he’s never seen as much traffic on the river as this summer.

 

“We’re seeing more river users than ever before,” Unaitis said. “There’s way too many people.”

 

On hot, weekend days from May to September, traffic on the Connecticut rivals that of the highway with hundreds of all types of boats, kayakers, paddle boarders all competing for limited space.

 

And it’s up to the environmental police and the Connecticut River Task Force, a flotilla of patrol boats staffed by police departments from communities along the river, to ensure everyone, for lack of a better term, goes with the flow.

 

For two hours on Thursday, Unaitis and Sgt. Jerry Shampang led a tour of the Connecticut River, from the shallows of Hatfield to the Holyoke dam, for Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Theoharides was in town for a first-hand look at issues along the Conneciticut and the work being done by police and the task force to maintain order.

 

Members of the task force include officers from police departments in Easthampton, Northampton, South Hadley, Hadley and Chicopee. Combined with the Environmental Police and Coast Guard representatives, they have worked to increase the visibility of law enforcement on the river and bring some order into what can at times be the Wild West of inland waterways.

 
MEP Patrol

Massachusetts Environmental Police Sgt. Jerry Shampang checks a boat at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton before a patrol of the Connecticut River Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

With the pandemic shutting down everything from schools to offices to restaurants, bars and theaters, people are turning to the great outdoors. “We’re seeing much more use of recreational areas,” Theoharides said. “We’re seeing the number of (new) boat registrations trending up.”

 

More people can mean more problems, and there have been several accidents in state recreational properties over the last several months, including some drownings. 

 

The Environmental Police patrols the river two to three days per week. The other agencies in the task force cover other times, and help on the weekends. “It would be terrible without the help of the locals who allow us to keep a handle on it.”

 

On the weekends, depending on the amount of traffic, it’s basically all hands on deck, according to Unaitis. HE notes one of the most effective means of curbing bad elements on the river involves police activity on land, not the water.

 

The state boat ramp off Route 5 near the Holyoke-Easthampton line is the only public access point for the river, and on busy days, it is packed. There are 35 parking spots in the launch area, but at times, particularly on weekends, it is not unusual to see as many as 100 vehicles and trailers parked bumper to bumper on the tree belt on each side of Route 5.

 

As part of the partnership, Easthampton police in recent months have been writing tickets to any boaters parked on the side of the road. “We control the ramp, and Easthampton controls the road,” Unaitis said. “If we can control what happens at that boat ramp, we can control what happens on the river.”

 
 
 
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Mass Environmental Police patrolling the Connecticut River

 

On Thursday, there were dozens of boats of all types, size and speeds operating in a 15-mile area north of the Holyoke dam and south of Hatfield. There were jet skis zipping all over the place. There are kayaks and people on paddle boats. And, there are people in the water swimming.

 

“If we can get through the weekend without someone being hurt or killed, that’s a good weekend,” Unaitis said, estimating the weekday activity is about a tenth of what happens on a weekend day.

 

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, whose home overlooks a part of the Oxbow, said she is used to looking out her windows and seeing tons of traffic on the river. “We have some scary stuff. It’s frightening, the level of activity,” she said. “People love the river and the activity, but it can be simply dangerous.”

 

Environmental police officers spend their patrols looking for people acting recklessly or endangering themselves or others. Boats and jet skis driving 45 mph or more command their attention. So do boats that go too fast through designated slow-speed, or “no wake,” portions of the river.

To operate a vehicle on land, you need to pass a test to get a driver’s license, while on the water, anyone 16 or older can legally pilot a motorized boat without a license, and children as young as 12 can drive if an adult is present. There’s no equivalent of a driver’s education class for boat operators that teaches safety and rules of the road.

 

During patrols, police look to see if boats are registered, if there are enough life vests, or personal flotation devices, for everyone on board, and if the operator is drinking.

 

“Boats and alcohol go hand in hand,” Unaitis said. Most of the time when officers pull up alongside a boat with several people on board, every one of them, except the driver, will have a drink in their hands, he said.

 
MEP Patrol

The state's Route 5 boat launch in Easthampton, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

 

During the July 4 weekend, the task force took part in Operation Dry Water, a national campaign to raise awareness of water safety. For the three-day weekend, several task force boats were on the water looking for safety violations, reckless boating and people with too much to drink.

As it is on roadways, it is against the law to drink alcohol and operate a boat. Just like on land, a blood-alcohol level of .08 is the legal limit, and to be caught boating under the influence of alcohol can result in a $1,000 fine and a one-year suspension of a driver’s license.

 

Shampang said they keep a close eye on boats going 45 mph – the speed limit – or more. A cop on the highway might let you slide if you do 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, but on the water it’s different, he said. Their patrol boat is equipped with a hand-held radar gun.

 

During the tour, as the patrol boat passed the state boat ramp and headed toward the main river channel, two jet skis, each with a driver and a passenger, surged ahead out into the water. A few more people were waiting at the dock.

 

Unaitis explained the jet skis were shuttling people across the river to an area on the South Hadley side known as Electricity Beach, a strip of sand underneath some power lines spanning the river. The beach is basically inaccessible by land and a popular spot to spend an afternoon. 

 

Police officers make sure everyone has a lifejacket, but otherwise, it is permissible. It’s an example of the new kind of activity they see on the river.

 

Just entering the no-wake zone near the Coolidge Bridge, Unaitis pulled alongside a 10-foot aluminum boat with a small outboard motor that is puttering along. Onboard were a middle-aged man and woman. The boat had no hull identification number visible, a display that’s required under state law for any vessel powered by mechanical means.

“Hey cap’n,” the officer says to the man. “You got a registration?” The man holds up his registration application, and says he’s waiting for the state to send him his registration number and decal. Unaitis shouted OK and told the man to keep the paperwork on board until his registration is official. Otherwise, he may be stopped again.

 

Before pulling away, he waves. The couple wave back.

 

Unaitis said they look for and will stop any boat without a number. If the operator can show proof that they have filed an application, they will let it go. Otherwise, it’s a citation, he said.

 
MEP Patrol

A view of Mt. Tom from the Connecticut River. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican)

 

Theoharides said the pandemic has seen more people buying boats, and, at the same time, a lag in the processing of boat registrations. “People have called me up to say ‘I just got a boat. Can you get me my number faster?’ I say no,” she said.

Moments later, a boat speeds past, towing two children on an inflatable raft. “I don’t see a spotter,” Shampang says.

 

Boats that are tubing or waterskiing need to have a spotter, someone other than the operator, dedicated to watching the people being towed in case there is a spill.

 

Unaitis turned the boat around. “Coming up,” he said, and the pursuit began. As they pulled in close, they could see two people in the boat, a man driving and a woman seated low in the back, keeping track of the kids on the inflatable raft. All four had quizzical expressions about the police boat that came after them, and Unaitis apologizes, shouting, “Sorry, cap’n. We couldn’t see your spotter.”

 

“That’s OK. Thanks for checking though,” the man shouts back.

 

Motoring past what is known as Mitch’s Island, a permanent, tree-lined sandbar in the river near Mitch’s Marina in Hadley, Unaitis and Shampang each say it is far from the pristine, natural habitat it appears. The island has for years been a natural stopping point for boaters, drawn to its sandy bottom and shallow water.  It has also attracted some setting up semi-permanent residency during the summer.

 

Shampang uses his laptop to share photos from last year, showing the island’s interior littered with tents, tables, old campfires, hammocks, piles of trash, empty beer cans and liquor bottles, and human waste. “It’s a garbage pit,” he said.

 

He and Unaitis say they find it incomprehensible for people to come to the river and leave trash behind. 

Both Mitch’s Island and Rainbow Beach, another sandbar just up the river on the Northampton side, are typically lined with boats each weekend. Rainbow Beach is part of a state-controlled wildlife conservation area because it is a breeding ground to an endangered insect known as the tiger beetle. “On Saturdays and Sundays, there will be no less than 1,000 people on the beach,” the sergeant said. 

 

Until the endangered beetles were discovered 20 years ago, people once also camped in the woods just off the beach. “We kicked all the campers out,” he said. “There was an issue, and we had to clean it up. We did it.”

 

As they toured the river, the two paused to point out a bald eagle’s nest in trees along the banks near Northampton’s Meadows area. They spotted a great egret standing motionless in some weeds near the Oxbow. And, then, there were trash bags, litter and empty bottles left behind by visitors.

 

That can be upsetting, Unaitis says. “I care about the river because I grew up here,” he explains. “I’ve worked here for so long. I’ve been to the source in Pittsburgh, New Hampshire. I think I speak for ( Shampang) when I say we’re all in it because we care. We care about the resource.”

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Not sure about the CT river In MA; it’s beautiful the areas I have been In NH. Webster is a dump. Lakes and rivers near crap areas seem to always attract more d bags than quiet country town bodies of water. The canal is its own beast attracting d bags from far and wide directly because of social media and online reports. Anybody that claims otherwise did not fish it before social media took over.

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I can see how that part of the conn river could be challenging to patrol. Lots of back eddies and fast moving stained water with lots of debris floating down river. Not surprised they have a few drownings up there.

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With the pandemic, all locations are seeing more pressure. My local lake that used to be quiet is now a zoo. The quality of the visitors also leave a lot to be desired. This morning a Subaru with kayak roof racks parked right on the boat ramp blocking the pull up area. Police came and gave them a ticket along with 1/2 dozen illegally parked vehicles. 

 

There was a line of boats boats waiting to launch and the beech was already packed with the 1/2 humans from the nearby city. They layer their trash on the shoreline and in the water like dirty pigs. I help the town out once and a while and clean up. What kills me is when I pick up a garbage can worth or trash and find the can we leave there empty. They can’t even walk 20-40 feet away to dispose of their trash. 

 

I am going to propose at the next town meeting that we charge for access next year. Hire an some part time folks to collect cash and deal with parking. 

 

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People are so messed up.........They leave all their trash........so easy just to take it to a trash can or dumpster.......smh

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1 hour ago, NHAngler said:

With the pandemic, all locations are seeing more pressure. My local lake that used to be quiet is now a zoo. The quality of the visitors also leave a lot to be desired. This morning a Subaru with kayak roof racks parked right on the boat ramp blocking the pull up area. Police came and gave them a ticket along with 1/2 dozen illegally parked vehicles. 

 

There was a line of boats boats waiting to launch and the beech was already packed with the 1/2 humans from the nearby city. They layer their trash on the shoreline and in the water like dirty pigs. I help the town out once and a while and clean up. What kills me is when I pick up a garbage can worth or trash and find the can we leave there empty. They can’t even walk 20-40 feet away to dispose of their trash. 

 

I am going to propose at the next town meeting that we charge for access next year. Hire an some part time folks to collect cash and deal with parking. 

 

Easy solution like the cape does, residents only. 

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Thanos may have been on to something...just sayin'.  :)

 

The big problem right now is that there are still a lot of people not working. They have time on their hands, which is leading to crowds everywhere. Pre-covid-91, it wasn't so crowded.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

33 mins ago, zak-striper said:

Thanos may have been on to something...just sayin'.  :)

 

The big problem right now is that there are still a lot of people not working. They have time on their hands, which is leading to crowds everywhere. Pre-covid-91, it wasn't so crowded.

This year has been absolutely brutal everywhere. Besides fishing, i do tons of hiking and outdoor excursions in many different town conservation lands, WMAs, Audubon and similar parks etc. I have never seen anything like this for numbers of people. Parking lots that fit 5 cars have 20 cars parked all along the road. The popular places with good parking are a total loss. The worst part is the giant explosion of dog walkers. Coming out of the woodwork. Apparently people who never walked their dog in the woods suddenly do it 7 days a week.

 

I completely abandoned everything that allows dogs and has parking. I'm pretty much off trail or far from parking now. Have to be creative in parking but I've managed to get away from people. I put in huge miles on our local powerlines. It's crazy how much cool wildlife filled land is under the powerlines. It sucks when you hit 4 wheelers and dirt bikes but we have some places where they don't go.

 

I've even used my knowledge of secret spots to let my kids swim on pretty much every one of these hot Saturdays without seeing anyone. It takes some walking and a willingness to soak in a cool river in the woods rather than cram into the infected masses at the beach. I like it. The kids don't mind.

 

I just hope things return to normal and people go back to work and get out of the woods.

 

Edited by Milky

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Posted (edited) · Report post

As far as fishing, for me it's all about getting up at at the crack of dawn and heading to local lakes and rivers.
Now that we're in late summer the air is getting more crisp and the bugs are mostly done hatching.

 

I only fish the CT river areas at night and that's over in Connecticut. Even before the pandemic the CT river in MA was a bit too crowded for me and I would never fish it on the weekends. 

Weekend fishing pretty much anywhere is a waste of time because of boats and pressure.

I stopped hiking my dogs around a local lake because of the crowds, even on weekdays. If I get there around 7 AM there's usually nobody. It used to be deserted on weekdays. 

We now take our dogs to other trails that are less visible because the trail heads don't have parking lots. I just park along side of the road near the trail head and enjoy the creeks.  

There are literally dozens of hidden hiking gems that have waterfalls and creeks all close to where I live in MA. My house is in a forested area and I can walk a few minutes down the road and get on a trail as well. 

 

Edited by TroutGhost

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When I fish the chicopee river which dumps into the CT river which is 4-5 a week its usually right after a rain storm or during. Thats when everyone is off the water. The amount of jet skis lately is just unreal and when they are around the fishing sucks. Doesn't help that we have zero help from the EPO out in western mass.  

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Last Saturday I got a hall pass from the lady to do my own thing. Took the yak to one of my local and seldom used put ins and found myself in a line six cars deep, all with the same plan.

Bailed on that and went up the road to a more difficult put in that I was sure would be all mine.... get to that one and there was such a crowd that a cop was parked there monitoring the situation.

I decided to bail on the whole plan and just drive around to my various spots along the Ct, Deerfield and green river just to see what the crowds were like and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Everywhere was completely over run with people and the Green River was so bad the Leyden police were going up and down the road kicking everyone out.

 

I love that people are rediscovering their local outdoor spots but really wish they weren’t all doing it at once.

 

Every place I saw was getting absolutely trashed with litter, fires and d-baggery.

 

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1 hour ago, SkunkLuvver said:

 

Every place I saw was getting absolutely trashed with litter, fires and d-baggery.

 

Same. Most especially liquor and beer bottles. Holy crap are there a lot of people drinking booze out in the woods, and NONE pick up their cans and bottles. I can be 5 miles from the road, deep in the woods, come to an overlook or clearing, whatever, and boom! Party site. Irritating. A sixpack is alot heavier when it's full but they have no trouble carting in 5 miles. But empty? Too heavy I guess. 

Fireball and Corona beer are the top choices of the littering crowd. 

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1 hour ago, SkunkLuvver said:

Last Saturday I got a hall pass from the lady to do my own thing. Took the yak to one of my local and seldom used put ins and found myself in a line six cars deep, all with the same plan.

Bailed on that and went up the road to a more difficult put in that I was sure would be all mine.... get to that one and there was such a crowd that a cop was parked there monitoring the situation.

I decided to bail on the whole plan and just drive around to my various spots along the Ct, Deerfield and green river just to see what the crowds were like and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Everywhere was completely over run with people and the Green River was so bad the Leyden police were going up and down the road kicking everyone out.

 

I love that people are rediscovering their local outdoor spots but really wish they weren’t all doing it at once.

 

Every place I saw was getting absolutely trashed with litter, fires and d-baggery.

 

Covid has wrecked all of my outdoor activities. There’s too many idiots everywhere. Maybe now that sports are starting back up people will start parking their butts on their couches again. 

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10 hours ago, Milky said:

Same. Most especially liquor and beer bottles. Holy crap are there a lot of people drinking booze out in the woods, and NONE pick up their cans and bottles. I can be 5 miles from the road, deep in the woods, come to an overlook or clearing, whatever, and boom! Party site. Irritating. A sixpack is alot heavier when it's full but they have no trouble carting in 5 miles. But empty? Too heavy I guess. 

Fireball and Corona beer are the top choices of the littering crowd. 

That’s funny because I rank bud lite as the litterbug’s favorite beer can, nips are fireball I agree 

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