You Don't Have to Go to Yellow Knife...
…to go dogsledding. Weather permitting, you can arrange to do just that with Great River Outfitters in Windsor, Vermont. Nor must you fly to Gmunden, Austria, to find world-class white water rafting, canoeing, and kayaking; Zoar’s Outdoor in Charlemont, Massachusetts, offers these and much more. The variety of outdoor activities available in the Connecticut River watershed, from adventure sports to hiking, biking, climbing, soaring, birding, and delightfully-boring raft trips, may be unrivalled.
On top of that, the inns and B&Bs waiting in every nook and cranny of the watershed provide all the comforts of home…and then some. The Deerfield Inn provides excellent lodging service and meals in the center of historic Deerfield, Massachusetts. The Brandt House in Greenfield, Massachusetts, also takes one back to the 19th century in comfort, as does the historic Snapdragon Inn in Windsor, Vermont. The sumptuous Quechee Inn at Marshland Farms in Quechee, Vermont, is minutes away from the Quechee Gorge, hot air ballooning, skiing, and the Simon Pearce restaurant and glass factory. With any luck (or good planning), the powerful Sugar River might run right under your room at the Common Man Inn in Claremont, New Hampshire, before it spills into the Connecticut River. For all of these, be sure to arrive in time for afternoon tea!
In these days of declining interest in international travel, there are great options much closer to home. If you would like assistance in planning travels in the watershed, we will be happy to help at no cost. We’re amateurs. On the other hand, we may assist in obtaining package discounts. Email Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a new venture, Estuary is necessarily going through a period of gradual reader build-up. We were nonetheless pleasantly surprised to note that our first mailing went to more than one hundred zip codes in thirteen states.
I’ll not dwell on the wonderful testimonials to the first issue…only to say they were as intimidating as they were gratifying as we realized how this second issue, with its theme of recreation, would be measured against the first. Once again, we count on our readers to tell us how we did, and always, how we can do better. We also look forward to submissions of articles and photos through our website at estuarymagazine.com.
The theme of our fall issue is birds and bird migration. This issue will feature a profile of the world-famous naturalist and resident of the watershed, Roger Tory Peterson. The winter issue will focus on the future of hydropower along the River, with accommodations to requisite environmental issues; we will also look back at relevant aspects of the industrial revolution, so much of which benefitted from water power.
“There is so much to do, and so little time.”
–Dick Shriver, Publisher
“Come to the woods, for here there is rest,” wrote John Muir, the pioneering environmental activist and writer. “There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.” Few knew the healing power of nature better than Muir (1838–1914), whose deep connection with the outdoors was forged through a convalescence. It was in March of 1867 that the Sottish-born Muir was working in a wagon wheel factory in Indianapolis when he suffered a serious eye injury. Confined to a darkened room for six weeks in order to regain his sight, the 28-year-old Muir, who had studied botany in college but never graduated, was forced to reflect on his life and his purpose. It was during this period of solitude, Muir says, that he determined “to be true to himself” and follow his dream of studying plants, immersing himself in nature and the outdoors. “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields,” Muir later wrote. “God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”
Today, many of us find ourselves confined to our “darkened rooms,” or perhaps more precisely, as in Dante’s Inferno, trapped “in a dark wood, where the direct way [is] lost.” Dante goes on to tell us: “It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear.” His words speak to us over the centuries. Dante had Virgil to lead him out of the gloom. Who will be our guide?
When I really need to escape, I paddle my canoe over to an island in the lower Connecticut River—a rocky, wooded, wild place with a meandering creek and marshes on the back side. The day I visited, I beached my craft near the inlet on the northern end, following a trail into the woods up to the crest of a ridge, a couple of hundred feet above the river. Seated on a rock in a clearing, I looked down through the dark trees to the glittering water. It was late afternoon, when the sounds of the powerboats fade away and a deep solitude washes over the place. The stillness was a tonic.
In that ethereal quiet it was hard to image that in the 19th century this island swarmed with 600 men, mainly Irish and Italian immigrants, who lived in camps from May to October to work the granite quarries. It was an extensive operation, with steam drills and derricks and a narrow gauge railroad to haul the massive blocks to waiting schooners. This island in the Connecticut River was known for its usually dense gneiss, prized in New York City and Philadelphia for street paving and curbing.
Quarrying ended abruptly in 1902, when the stone business was no longer profitable. The woods grew back, and the island became a haven for those who wanted to escape, for whatever reason. In the 1930s, a reputed gangster hid out on the island to evade capture. He built a lean-to against some rocks and camouflaged it with branches. Friends brought him food and supplies. The authorities never found him.
The island’s best-known hermit was a fellow by the name of Andrew Holloway. Jilted by his wife who favored his brother, Holloway vowed never to speak to another human being. He built a houseboat and paddled it to the island, where he lived as a recluse for 50 years. When friends came to visit, he communicated by writing on a slate.
A beautiful, wild, lonely place, this island.
–Erik Hesselberg, Managing Editor
By Karen M. Bourque
Just about a mile as the crow (or cardinal, or chickadee) flies from the Connecticut River’s western bank in Norwich, Vermont, sits a nondescript building that houses one of the most effective wildlife conservation organizations in the Northeast that
you’ve probably never heard of: the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE). There is no visitor’s center, no gallery of specimens to pore over, no lecture hall for attending natural history presentations. Instead, you’ll find ornithologists, herpetologists, pollinator specialists, outreach naturalists, and even a software engineer stuffed into offices and cubes, busily carrying out critical work in a race to conserve wildlife in the Western Hemisphere. They study, tweet, blog, write, lecture, live, breathe, and photograph nature. They even host a monthly radio show on Vermont Public radio called Outdoor Radio, and offer a lecture series aptly named Suds & Science that draws science fans from both sides of the river to gather at a local tavern for lively conversation and craft beverages.
What sets VCE apart from other research organizations is that their scientists engage—and in fact, depend on—the public for the success of their field research and wildlife monitoring projects. Projects like one of the continent’s longest-running studies of forest bird population trends, and saving the Common Loon from imminent extirpation in Vermont, for example. VCE’s army of volunteer citizen scientists—people like you— pour their hearts and souls (and collectively, a huge amount of time and energy) into a range of activities crucial to understanding the state of our natural world. They identify and count bird species from deep river valleys to the summits of the Northeast’s highest mountains; monitor and help rescue loons; evaluate vernal pool ecosystems; and submit thousands of observations of the myriad life forms along the Connecticut River watershed from Canada to Connecticut and beyond to a global biodiversity database.
And, they have a lot of fun along the way.
This collaboration of scientists and volunteers has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, including:
These are but a few of many examples. Learn more about VCE’s work and how can you get involved at VTEcostudies.org, and follow them on social media (@vtecostudies). You don’t have to live in Vermont or have a background in science to make a real contribution to wildlife conservation as a VCE volunteer. After all, as VCE Executive Director, Chris Rimmer, often states: “Conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife.”
There are not many creatures in the animal world that can outwit a crow. For that matter, humans have had a tough time outsmarting them, too.
Here’s an encounter with a flock of crows, for example, that left one University of Connecticut scientist shaking his head.
“Years ago,” said Chris Elphick, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, “I was studying the effects of predators on beach nesting birds here in Connecticut. To do this, we created artificial nests using quail eggs, to estimate predation rates.
“The only problem was that, within a day or two, the crows had figured out what we were doing, and would follow us down the beach eating all the eggs we had put into fake nests as soon as we moved on to the next site.
“We had to totally redesign the experiment,” Elphick remembered with a laugh.
Patrick Comins, executive director of The Connecticut Audubon Society, is another one impressed with these unique birds, who are known to gather around their dead, design and use tools, lure fish and birds to their death, and use cars to crack nuts on the streets, to name a few of their astonishing feats.
“Crows are among the most intelligent of all birds,” said Comins, adding, “They have been able to be taught how to count and even mimic human language.”
What sets crows, ravens, jays, magpies, and nutcrackers apart from other fowl in the world is the fact that this family of birds, called “corvids,” have unusually large brains.
“Corvids in general have brains on a par with similar-size mammals, not birds, and crows and ravens in particular have brains the size of that of a small monkey,” writes John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington in his fascinating book, Gifts of the Crow.
Ravens, for example, who are the closest kin to crows, have been observed by researchers crushing tunnels made by voles under the snow, then waiting and watching for the rodents to appear from a nearby perch. “This unique hunting strategy demonstrates imagination—the ability to visualize an out-of-sight object, as well as planning and anticipation,” Marzluff said.
According to Marzluff, when crows follow a person who is feeding them, they may drop gifts. He cites Leona from Missouri, who routinely receives shards of colored glass in her bird feeder in exchange for sunflower seeds. And Beth, a crow feeder from Seattle, who leaves dog kibble for her crows, once received a bright house key, dropped by one of the crows.
Two species of crows reside in the Connecticut River Valley. They are the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) a stocky, ebony-colored bird, 17–21 inches long, who frequent woodlands, farmlands, fields, river groves, and shorelines; and the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus), also completely black, but a littler smaller, 16–21 inches. These birds typically dwell in tidewaters and lower valleys of large rivers.
Because the territories of American crows and fish crows overlap and they look alike, Roger Tory Peterson, the acclaimed author of the Peterson Field Guide series, recommends that we identify the two different crows by their voice, rather than size.
“The American crow utters an honest-to-goodness caw, while the fish crow has a short ca, or two-syllabled ca-ha,” he said.
Finally, crows are very social, mate for life, form tight, extended families, and can live up to 16 years in the wild. In the winter, they also roost together in large, noisy flocks, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
Crows are omnivorous, eating seeds, nuts, fruits, worms, mice, songbird eggs, and chicks, including carrion and garbage.
Lastly, Comins paints a whimsical picture about these remarkable birds. “I like to observe the fish crows in my neighborhood in the morning. It almost seems like they have a morning meeting, forming a tight group, cawing back and forth until eventually they all set off in different directions.
“Maybe they’re discussing which streets have garbage pickup on that day,” he said.
Bill Hobbs is a nature columnist for The Day in New London, CT. For comments, he can be reached at
When I was nineteen, I moved from Texas to Massachusetts to attend Hampshire College. I had lived my whole life up to that point in a hot, flat landscape, so when I moved North, I wanted to get to know the landscape as intimately as I could. Hampshire offered a whitewater kayaking class, and that sounded like the perfect activity. I’d never done anything like it before except stand-up paddle-boarding on a lake. Little did I know, it was the start of a love affair with a sport and the river that continues to this day.
My first day on the River was a fall day in New England. The trees burst into the brightest colors I’d ever seen; orange leaves were like monarch butterfly wings. I was on Miller’s River, a 50-mile tributary to the Connecticut River just above Turner’s Falls. I was nervous at first, but as we went downstream—bouncing up and down through waves, surrounded by a forest on fire with color—I thought: I want to do this for the rest of my life.
Eight months later, on the same river, I paddled downstream with an army of kayaks and rafts filled with friends. It had just stormed, so the water level was higher. On my first day, it had been 2.5 feet. This day, it was 6 feet. Waves were bigger. The current was faster. I was nervous as we plunged into the river’s biggest rapid: The Funnel. Laughter was drowned out by the sound of roaring water, and when I looked downstream all I saw was white. I took a deep breath in and felt the adrenaline in my chest. I breathed out, trusted my skill. In the middle of the rapid, I was pure focus, one paddle stroke after the other, eyes ahead. When I came out the bottom, I was elated. The whole group shouted and screamed with excitement.
When I first started kayaking, there was this strange boat that wouldn’t stop spinning. It flipped over unexpectedly, I was under water and had to pull the skirt to exit the boat while holding my breath.
Then there was the river. The views of the river were the first reason I fell in love with kayaking. I would see an otter slip into the river from the shore, then get a refreshing splash of water on my face as I hit a wave. There’s a feeling of awe as I paddle down the lowest point of a valley, with mountains that reach into the sky all around.
If the river drew me into the sport, the sport itself kept me there. It’s an activity that requires time, dedication, and willful drive. I remember a day at a pool session in late October; I was just learning to roll (to flip the boat upside down, and then flip it back upright). I’d gotten my roll in September and lost it mid-October. I tried and tried, flipping over, setting my body position, trying to snap my hips and twist my body to reach the surface once again. I worked with a dedicated instructor who gave me little tweaks—cock my wrist forward, follow my paddle blade with my eyes, and loosen my death grip on the paddle. He struck a balance between when to push me to try again, and when to take a breath. Eventually, the little tweaks and persistence led to a solid roll. One I could rely on when I flipped over in the midst of a rapid.
After two semesters of college and the river, I applied to Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort in Charlemont, Massachusetts. A friend in the paddling program at Hampshire said I should apply. She said I could continue learning the sport as I learned to teach it. When I filled out the application, it asked: Why do you want to work at Zoar Outdoor? I said, because I want to be on the river as much as possible. Zoar Outdoor works mainly on the Deerfield River, though they often do trips to Miller’s and the Connecticut at different times in the summer. Zoar offers clinics for all skill levels that range from 1–5 days in length. They often have a couple of different groups, as well as custom-designed private clinics.
I went to my first American Canoe Association certification course in March. Ice and snow lined the riverbanks. That first course was a huge challenge; I realized not only how much I needed to learn, but how much I didn’t know I needed to know. There was a world of paddle strokes, playboat moves, and rescue skills I’d never heard of. I was still coming to terms with the classes of rapids: I–VI (Class I as moving current, Class VI as Niagara Falls). Often times, I couldn’t imagine knowing enough, or being skilled enough to be on a certain river. How could I imagine teaching others to do the same? But as we discussed the numerous ways to teach a single skill—the ways we would individualize, demo, give examples and analogies—I soon understood how concepts and skills click differently for different people, and how to provide comfort to a student until they did.
After a summer shadowing clinics and a winter of practice, I became a full-time instructor at Zoar. This past summer, I led clinics with my coworkers and friends, as well as on my own. I am consistently humbled by my fellow instructors and students, people dedicated to the love of a shared sport, willing to offer tips on a new wave, excited to scout a rapid, and talk about all the different lines you could take, happy to help gather people and gear after a swim, attentive to the great blue herons as they fly down the river, and careful to be kind to the mergansers who shared our eddies. For the novice, intermediate, to advanced paddler, every day on the river contains moments of joy and growth.
In two years, I’ve gone from a boat that wouldn’t stop spinning to a boat that spins on waves. I’ve paddled down an icy creek in 20-degree weather and have emptied my boat on the shore more times than I can count. I’ve spent hours in pools practicing rolls and playboat moves, and traveled to rivers from Massachusetts to Connecticut, Vermont, West Virginia, Canada, and Ecuador. As I’ve grown from Class I-II waters into a budding Class V paddler, the most important knowledge I carry with me is that one never stops learning. No matter where we are in our skillset, the river always has more to offer. There’s always a new sight to be seen, a new move to try on a wave, or a new line on a rapid that hasn’t been attempted before. But as the things I’ve learned change and grow, the dedication to the sport, the joy and commitment from the river community, and awe for the landscape have remained from day one.
A moment from a beginner’s clinic this past summer epitomized all these aspects of whitewater. We were in an eddy at Fisherman’s Bend, a rapid on the upper section of the Fife Brook on the Deerfield River. A group of students, about seven of them, were practicing their first peel-outs into the current. Each student approached the eddy line, leaned on the downstream edge, and entered the current. They went one-by-one, returning to the eddy where another instructor and I gave advice. Suddenly, a student noticed something coming down the rapids. There was a baby bear swimming downstream. It came around the bend, then swam into the eddy on the opposite riverbank from us. It ran up on shore, looked back at us, then rushed into the forest. There was a moment of silence, then giddy exclamations from the group, me included. After the excitement subsided, I said, “Alright, who’s next?” One-by-one, students paddled across the eddy line and into the current. Some wobbled, some spun around on the eddy line—nervous to punch through the rapid. I thought back to some of my first peel-outs in the same spot: I was nervous, wobbly, and intimidated. But each time it got easier. For each peel-out I did two years ago, and for each one my students that day, cheers rose from the eddy. I watched as confidence grew, and soon enough, we paddled on downstream, merganser style.
By Eric D. Lehman
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Edmund Delaney graduated from Princeton and Harvard, then served in the War Department during World War II. Along the way he made friends with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Ella Fitzgerald, and artist Marcel Duchamp before practicing law in New York and directing the Oppenheimer Fund. In 1965, he met the managing editor of Antiques magazine, Barbara Snow, at a dinner party. They fell in love and married.
Barbara had grown up in Hartford and attended Connecticut College, and convinced Edmund to move with her to Chester, a small village that had once been a shipbuilding site along the Connecticut River. In 1970, they moved into an 1815 Colonial-style home complete with period furniture, and Edmund got a job at a nearby Essex law firm. The couple immediately made an impact on the small town, embracing their neighbors and the River as old friends.
After forming the Chester Historical Society, Barbara served as its first president, led the restoration efforts for the Chester Meeting House, and later acquired an old mill for the society.
She also served as president of the Rockfall Foundation, an agency in nearby Middletown dedicated to environmental education, ran Chester’s first art gallery, the Wall Focus Gallery, and helped establish the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, working to save important buildings around the state. She then served on the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency and on the Connecticut River Museum board with Edmund.
Like his wife, Delaney was a president of the Chester Historical Society. He was also on the Connecticut Historical Commission, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission and the board of the Connecticut River Museum. But it was as an author that he would have his greatest impact. His most popular and influential book, The Connecticut River: New England’s Historic Waterway, tells the tales of people who transformed and were transformed by our mighty waterway. Beginning with the tentative explorations of Dutch traders and the settlement of Hartford by Thomas Hooker, the book highlights the attack on Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Queen Anne’s War, and tells the stories of the self-sufficient pioneers who pushed into the upper valley between New Hampshire and Vermont. With careful attention to historical sources, Delaney helps us glimpse the Industrial Revolution, the War of 1812, and the flowering of New England literature, all without leaving the watershed. Steamboats and floods, shad runs and West Indies traders, all come alive through Delaney’s careful pen.
“We realized you don’t do things all by yourself,” Barbara told the Hartford Courant in 1994. “I think people who do things work together and don’t do it for their own gain.” Edmund passed away in 2000, and Barbara lived another eighteen years before following him. But their legacy lives on, in a thousand small ways, in a million tiny changes in our culture. Through equal parts organizational skills and epic dinner parties, they shifted local perception about their adopted town and watershed, and reached beyond, up and down the river they loved.
There are dozens of people like the Delaneys up and down the Connecticut River valley, creating small nodes of preservation and compassion. Each one can make a difference, but together they can create a better world for us all.
There are so many opportunities today to enjoy fish from around the world but indigenous trout have always been a North American favorite. A totally romantic idea…standing knee deep in a crisp, sparkling and babbling brook can be alluring and appealing to some but a trip to the fishmonger can also hook a beautiful rainbow trout.
Trout, in the same family as salmon, is considered an oily fish, which gives it a flaky, delicate, and juicy consistency when cooked. High in Omega-3 fatty acids and packed with essential nutrients, it rivals the salmon for health benefits…rich in Vitamins B6 and B12 for energy and Vitamin D for strong bones.
Always an impressive presentation with minimal labor, a grilled trout is a good choice to share with friends and family. One of the simplest preparations is to grill or roast a whole trout stuffed with aromatic herbs which permeate throughout the cooking.
Here are a couple of favorites…
Roasted Trout with Herbs
♦ Choose a ¾ to 1 lb. whole trout per person…scaled, gutted, and cleaned. Head and fins can be removed for the squeamish—this will not affect the cooking time.
♦ Stuff with parsley & dill (or other herbs of choice) and garlic, sliced onion, and lemon slices; salt and pepper to taste.
♦ Diagonally slash every 1–2 inches, and rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. ♦ Tie in several places with kitchen string.
♦ Roast in the oven at 450 degrees on a parchment-lined sheet pan for 10–15 minutes and then under the broiler for another 5–7 minute; plate and serve with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus.
Two alternative cooking methods:
♦ Pan sear the prepared fish in a cast iron grill pan for 3 minutes on each side and then roast in the oven at 375 degrees for another 18-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until edges are crispy; or,
♦ Grill prepared fish directly on a well-oiled grate or cast iron pan for 14 minutes turning over half-way through.
Grilled Butterflied Trout with
White Beans and Capers
Ingredients for 2 servings:
2 whole trout, ¾ to 1lb., cleaned, boned, and butterflied (backbone removed)
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ cup minced shallots
2 Tbsp. white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. drained capers
1 tsp. each of kosher salt, pepper, chopped fresh rosemary
1 15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 cup sliced arugula
♦ To make the vinaigrette, cook butter over medium heat until brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon oil, shallots, vinegar, capers and rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.
♦ Warm beans, lemon zest & 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette in a saucepan, add salt and pepper to taste.
♦ Brush flesh side of the trout with a little vinaigrette.
♦ Grill on an oiled grill grate flesh side down and turn after 2 minutes and cook another 2 minutes. One can also cook on the stove on a grill pan. May need to cook longer if preparing a larger fish. Transfer fish to plates.
♦ Mix arugula into warm beans and spoon over fish, topping with additional rewarmed vinaigrette
MELODY TIERNEY is an avid foodie and has enjoyed sharing her passion with friends and family for many years. She and her husband, Phil, were also bed and breakfast owners in Southampton, New York, serving up a signature breakfast every morning. This and their gracious hospitality earned them Inn of the Month in Travel and Leisure magazine.
Just a mile from the river, North of Brattleboro in the tiny village of Dummerston, a bungalow-style house perches on a hillside. With views across to Mount Monadnock, this magnificent home called “Naulakha” was built by Rudyard Kipling after he married Vermont heiress Caroline Balestier. When Kipling wasn’t playing tennis with Arthur Conan Doyle, he wrote The Jungle Book (in which the short story about the courageous mongoose, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, appears) and
Captains Courageous here. Today you can eat on his dining room table, knock balls around his pool table, and write your own masterpiece at his desk. At night, rest your weary head in his master bedroom, or one of three others, since the building sleeps eight. For a cozier, less pricey night for two or four people, you can rent out his carriage house instead.
Naulakha is kept by The Landmark Trust USA, an offshoot of the much larger Landmark Trust UK, which preserves homes all across the United Kingdom and beyond by turning them into lodging opportunities. It is a concept that has not yet become popular in America, but just might be a way to save more unique homes along the Connecticut River.
Visit www.landmarktrustusa.org and for reservations contact at
(802) 254-6868 or email@example.com.
The Connecticut River meanders for almost 200 miles from north to south along the entire border between Vermont and New Hampshire. It’s a gentle river, beloved by paddlers of all abilities for its unspoiled shoreline, abundant wildlife, and ample public access points. The Connecticut River is best explored by a canoe or kayak, which will allow you to coast along the shore looking for critters, take in the stunning views of the surrounding hills, and cool off with a swim whenever the mood strikes.
If you don’t have a canoe or kayak of your own or are new to paddling, a day trip on the Connecticut River with Great River Outfitters may be exactly what you’ve been looking for. Throw in a night or two under the stars at Wilgus State Park in Weathersfield for the ultimate Vermont summer weekend.
The ultimate Vermont summer weekend is exactly what we were looking for when we arranged for a 14-mile paddling trip on the Connecticut River with Great River Outfitters. This is a day trip, taking an estimated eight to ten hours to complete, and the best part? It starts and ends right at Wilgus State Park, where you can score a waterfront campsite for just $21.
Camping at Wilgus State Park
Wilgus State Park is the only Vermont State Park that is right on the Connecticut River, and every one of the 21 campsites has a lovely view. You can choose from 15 tent/RV sites, 6 lean-tos, or 4 camping cabins. Our favorite site is #16, but I think the secret is out because it’s always booked when we try to reserve it.
There’s a canoe/kayak launch within the park, WiFi at the contact station, and a mile-long nature trail across the road. You can rent canoes and kayaks at Wilgus State Park for a ½ or full day of paddling, or you can do what we did and embark on a full-day adventure, paddling from Sumner Falls in Hartland, Vermont, to our campground at Wilgus State Park.
Paddling the Connecticut River
Craig and Nicki from Great River Outfitters picked us up at Wilgus State Park at 9 am on a sunny Friday morning in July. My husband, Eric, and I were the only ones taking advantage of the shuttle that day, but it’s a service they offer to campers on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
We made our way north to Great River Outfitters in Windsor, Vermont, where we swapped Craig’s Subaru for a van and a trailer full of boats. While we waited for a few more paddlers, we had a chance to explore the Great River Outfitters shop, which featured a cool mix of hiking and paddling gear, local products, and unique gifts.
As the room began to fill with people, Craig sat us down and gave us the low down on paddling the Connecticut River. He explained how to follow the channel and keep the boat in the deepest part of the river, where to spot wildlife, how high and fast the water was moving, and any weather precautions for the day. After our briefing, we loaded into the van. Eric and I were joined by a few more adventurers, including a feisty, kayaking dog named Baxter.
The Great River Outfitter van transported us, along with our boats, to Sumner Falls in Hartland, Vermont, and within minutes we were in the water. Eric and I chose a canoe for our trip, so we could paddle together and carry a picnic and some photography gear. Single and tandem kayaks are also available.
The first five miles of our paddle was definitely the most scenic. We weren’t sure how long it would take to paddle 14 miles so we didn’t give this section the attention it deserved. My first tip for you is to enjoy this part of the river. You can easily paddle 14 miles in a day, even at a leisurely pace with stops for picnicking and swimming, so take your time!
We spotted all kinds of birds from our canoe, including common mergansers and black ducks with babies, two bald eagles, and dozens of kingfishers. Mt. Ascutney played hide and seek with us throughout our journey, making an appearance as we rounded a bend in the river, and then hiding behind the clouds when I pulled out my camera. Such is life.
The Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge
Aside from the majestic bald eagles and the beautiful swimming spots, one of the highlights of our Connecticut River trip was paddling under and around the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge (or Windsor-Cornish Bridge depending on who you talk to).
At 449.5’ long, the Cornish-Windsor Bridge is the longest wooden covered bridge in Vermont and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. New Hampshire actually owns the bridge, along with every other bridge connecting it with Vermont. In fact, New Hampshire owns the whole Connecticut River, all the way to the low-water mark on the western bank of Vermont.
And Back to Wilgus State Park!
Just a few hours after passing under the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, we were back at our waterfront campsite enjoying a cold beer and a camp-cooked meal. Craig came with the van and trailer to pick up the boats, and we fell asleep blissfully tired under the light of a million stars.
Planning a Connecticut River Float Trip with Great River Outfitters
Great River Outfitters is a full-service outfitter based in Windsor, Vermont. They offer a variety of outdoor adventures for all ages and abilities. Whether you’re looking for a mellow float trip on a raft, tube, canoe, or kayak, an outdoor leadership or survival course, or a dog-sledding adventure in the winter, Great River Outfitters has you covered.
Wilgus State Park has partnered with Great River Outfitters to offer paddling trips down this beautiful stretch of the Connecticut River. The beauty of these trips is that the folks from Great River Outfitters will pick you up at the park in the morning, outfit you with boats, paddles, and PDFs, and transport you to the river launch. All you have to do is float down the river to your campground.
There are two trips available to campers at the park. The first is a 10-mile trip that begins at the Path of Life Gardens in Windsor and ends at Wilgus State Park. This is a 10-mile trip, which should take a leisurely 6 to 8 hours to complete. The second trip, and the one we loved, starts in Sumner Falls for a 14-mile paddle back to the campground. The estimate for this trip is 8 to 10 hours, but we completed it in 7 without rushing.
Tara Schatz is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and family vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone. Her goal is to help people connect with the world and each other by encouraging them to embark on journeys big and small.
Want to plan your own float trip down this beautiful stretch of the Connecticut River? Here are some tips to make it happen.
Reserve your campsite. Wilgus State Park has a pretty small campground. Make your reservations early to ensure you get a spot. Wilgus State Park is open from the end of April until Columbus Day weekend.
Book your trip. The shuttle service to Great River Outfitters runs on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, departing at 9 a.m. You have to reserve a spot at the ranger station by 5 p.m. the day before your trip.
Food: Packs snacks, a full picnic, or enjoy a meal and a beer at Harpoon Brewery in Artisans Park.
Essentials for a summer float trip: Sunglasses, sunblock, swimsuit, towel, hat, water shoes or sandals, cell phone, and a camera. Pack all the above in a dry sack. You can buy a dry sack at the Great River Outfitters store. If you’re bringing a picnic (or lots of gear), consider renting a canoe, which holds more stuff.
BYOB. Traveling with your own canoe or kayak? You can still take advantage of the shuttle service if you bring your own boat.
The Contested River
Our Connecticut River has a storied past—especially the struggles between contenders for who owned the River. As one of our most discernible landmarks flowing down the center spine of New England, the River was referenced as a boundary of the various states beginning as early as 1644 with kerfuffles lasting nearly 300 years.
The Connecticut River, rising near Quebec, flows south through four states to Long Island Sound, but five states and three countries had disagreements over who owns the River and/or the location of their state/national boundary relative to the river. Most of the discussions hinged on errors in surveys but imagine a landowner’s exasperation when two jurisdictions insist on collecting their tax levies.
The earliest disagreement along the Connecticut River arose between New York and Connecticut. When the English colonies of Saybrook, New Haven, and Hartford merged in 1644, Connecticut claimed all the intervening land including the eastern part of Long Island based on a patent granted to the Earl of Sterling that was mortgaged to residents of Saybrook.
King Charles II of England, willfully ignorant about this joining of Connecticut towns, made a land grant to the Duke of York (his brother) in 1664 for “all that Island or Islands commonly called by…Long Island situate lying and…upon the main land between the two Rivers there…called Hudson’s River and all the Land from the West side of Connecticut River….”
Resolving these dual claims took political maneuvering in the colonies and before the English Crown, with only one military confrontation, no loss of life, and some well-done survey maps. In 1731, the two colonies agreed to the location of the Connecticut western boundary with New York, assigning the “panhandle” of Greenwich and Stamford and the Connecticut River to the state of Connecticut henceforth. The deal made Long Island part of New York.
In 1642, Massachusetts surveyors erroneously placed the southern border with Connecticut seven miles south of its actual location, understandably since they were not surveyors at all and did not actually walk the survey line but sailed up the Connecticut River to complete the western leg of their task.
With new surveys, by 1713 the states agreed to a new boundary well north of the 1642 location but the citizens who thought they were, and wanted to remain, residents of Massachusetts did not agree and petitioned the Court for redress.
One notable squabble was Longmeadow’s desire to remain wholly in Massachusetts. In 1749, the court settled a suit to accommodate Longmeadow but in order to comply, Enfield’s town boundary had to be extended into the Connecticut River running north-south down the middle of the river creating the “Longmeadow Jog.” The jog created a 4 ¼- mile long singular boundary between Massachusetts and Connecticut, and is the only boundary over the River’s 410-mile length between states set in the middle of the river.
Turmoil Birthing Vermont
The Longmeadow Jog mid-river boundary should not be so unusual since most waterbodies marking a boundary have an invented dotted line running down their middle. It is not true on the upper Connecticut River because everyone ‘knows’ the river belongs to New Hampshire. But with boundaries being a human conceit, it is more complicated than that.
The early English grants set the boundary between then New York and New Hampshire as the western bank of the river, and then Vermont declared her independence. That incited community leaders in 22 New Hampshire towns west of the River to secede from New Hampshire. They wanted to eliminate the river as a boundary. A convention of river towns from both states met in Cornish, New Hampshire, to consider forming a state called “New Connecticut” reflecting the starting place of many of the settlers. After due consideration, in 1778, the New Hampshire towns joined the Vermont Republic outright.
New Hampshire tried to appease the rebels and floated the idea of annexing Vermont river towns into New Hampshire. When that failed, New Hampshire asked the Continental Congress to settle the dispute making it clear that unless Congress returned the towns, New Hampshire would no longer contribute to the revolutionary war effort. New Hampshire then threatened to send soldiers westward to the valley, ostensibly to protect against Indians but in reality, to take back the annexed towns. That did it and the Vermont Congress resolved in 1782 to forego the New Hampshire towns.
Over the ensuing years, Vermont asserted her claim over half the river and invited New Hampshire to appoint commissions to settle the boundary in 1792, 1794, and 1830. New Hampshire offered no response to the first two invitations and answered a flat NO to the last. New Hampshire had the river and was not letting go.
In 1915, Vermont sued in the US Supreme Court to set the boundary between the states as the thread (deepest part) of the Connecticut River. Vermont said it held title up to the thread by virtue of English common law and since Vermont joined the Union as a sovereign country, she herself established her boundaries claiming thread was her boundary. Undaunted, New Hampshire cross-filed with the Court to acquire jurisdiction of that narrow width of land on the Vermont shore between the low and high water mark.
The Court found that by passing the 1782 Resolution renouncing their interest in annexing the upper valley New Hampshire towns, Vermont had relinquished any claim to jurisdiction beyond the Vermont shore at the low-water mark. The low-water mark was further defined as “the point to which the river recedes at its lowest stage without reference to extreme droughts.”
As to the New Hampshire claim on the land between the high and low water marks, the Court found that even if New Hampshire had authority over that part of the river, there would be, “insurmountable difficulty, in attempting to draw any other line than the low-water mark.” Therefore, in 1934, the US Supreme Court decided that New Hampshire got the river and Vermont kept its shore land.
A Court Master surveyed the boundary and placed 4-inch brass disk markers at 112 survey points from Vernon, VT, upriver to the 45th parallel where the river crosses into New Hampshire entirely. Each marker gives the distance from the marker along a compass heading to the actual low water boundary. Vermont and New Hampshire law requires that the boundary line “shall be perambulated…wherever necessary.”
The Court even foresaw power dams since the surveyed low water mark would be “unaffected by improvements on the river.” The reservoirs behind the nine power dams have now submerged the natural low water point but the original surveyed locations remain the border, although in some cases the boundary is under water more than one hundred feet off the Vermont shore.
The Republic of Indian Stream
Europeans settled far northern New Hampshire under a land grant from Chief King Philip of the Abenaki St. Francis nation. Unfortunately, the 1783 Treaty of Paris settling the American Revolution created uncertainty about the US Canadian border. The question: was the boundary Halls Stream or the Connecticut Lakes 10 miles to the east. In 1827, the two countries agreed to submit their competing claims to a neutral King of Holland but when the King decided in favor of England, the US ignored his decision.
In 1832, a New Hampshire court upheld a prisoner’s claim that New Hampshire and the US did not have jurisdiction in the Indian Stream area and set him free. The decision meant there was no local New Hampshire /United States law protecting the citizens from ruffians and smugglers; yet the US asserted its right to levy duties on goods imported into Indian Stream and England asserted its right to impress Indian Stream citizens into her army.
In 1832, in response to this untenable situation, the citizens devised a Constitution for the “Indian Stream Territory” that provided for an assembly, a council, a judiciary and a president, a school system, a 41-member army, and coexisted peaceably with the United States and England both.
Then there occurred a series of misadventures involving an unpaid hardware store debt, a Canadian sheriff, Indian Stream challenging New Hampshire, a series of US/Canada cross border arrest warrants, and the arrest of the Indian Stream deputy who, after his removal to Canada was to stand trial for ignoring Canadian warrants. He was later retrieved by the New Hampshire volunteers crossing the border into Canada.
The citizens of Indian Stream felt things were out of hand and decided to acknowledge they were part of Pittsburg, NH. The Indian Stream Assembly adopted resolutions dissolving their country in 1836. The dispute was definitively resolved by treaty and the land assigned to New Hampshire in 1842.
This brief history of the Connecticut River as a boundary shows ongoing discord and confusion about human affairs involving the river. Of course, given that the river does not care about political boundaries, the Connecticut River is not confused at all.
The year 2020 notches a notable anniversary in the annals of the Connecticut River. It is the centennial year of Dartmouth’s Ledyard Canoe Club. Each spring their cadres of collegiate canoeists replicate the legendary paddle their progenitor took in May of 1773. His adventure is the most famous canoe journey in the long history of the River. This epic drift in a dugout canoe fashioned from a pine tree began a series of peregrinations that took him to some of the remotest destinations on Earth. He is solidly enshrined in the hall of fame reserved for the world’s truly great travelers.
Born in 1751 to a Connecticut sea captain and his wife, he was raised by well-to-do family members in Hartford. He showed up at Dartmouth College, then in only its third year, in a two-wheeled sulky, the equivalent of a flashy sports car today. His time as a scholar was sketchy. Before his first term finished, he took off on a mid-winter walkabout, living with groups of indigenous people in far northern New England.
This experience gave him a passion for anthropology and archeology. He developed a deep respect for other cultures, which served him well as he circled the globe in search of knowledge, fortune, and the unknown.
His college career came to an abrupt end when he loaded his dugout canoe with a bearskin, a book of poetry, a Greek testament, and minimal provisions to set off down the Connecticut bound for the world. His voyage almost came to a tragic end when he was so engrossed in the rhymes of Ovid he failed to notice the rapidly approaching, roaring cascades of Bellows Falls. Alarmed bystanders on the shore hallooed and caught his attention just in time to avoid what would have been a fatal plunge. He arranged for an oxcart to portage around the waterfalls and continued blithely downstream.
Ledyard made a quick stop in Hartford to visit family who were quite amazed to see someone unwrap himself from a bearskin cocoon and prove to be their prodigal relative. He continued out the mouth of the River and crossed Long Island Sound to visit more family. Ledyard decided he would become a clergyman, but the study and sobriety required were not in keeping with his wanderlust and ecstatic inclinations. He then determined to devote himself to a period of extended travel that would encompass the rest of his life. He signed on as an ordinary seaman under the command of a friend of his late father’s and sailed off across the Atlantic and on to destiny.
In England, he was impressed into the British Navy and reluctantly became a member of the Royal Marines. It was in that capacity that he accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage of discovery. Ledyard wound up in Hawaii, Tonga, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Kerguelen Islands to name just a few of the exotic places he visited. He became the first American citizen to land on the west coast of North America. He was also the first Anglo-American to be tattooed. He posited the theory that the indigenous people of the Americas migrated from Asia. It is generally accepted fact today.
Returning to the Connecticut, he faced the problem of fighting against colonists in the Revolutionary War. Rather than kill his compatriots, he deserted the Marines and retreated to Dartmouth where he set to writing the history of his voyage with Captain Cook mainly from memory.
The book was an immediate success. It is noteworthy for being the first manuscript in the US to receive a copyright. On a negative note, it was claimed that he plagiarized the crucial narrative surrounding the killing of Cook by Hawaiians. He averred to be an eye-witness, but apparently he was not.
He was convinced there were fortunes to be made exporting sea-otter skins to Asia. While his business model didn’t quite work, he presaged the lucrative China trade that was to blossom in the 18th century. He wound up in Paris trying to interest capitalists in his otter idea. He was unsuccessful, but took to hobnobbing with Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, the Marquis Lafayette and other luminaries. In conjunction with them, he decided to mount an expedition that would cross all of Russia on foot; kayak across the Bering Strait and continue to perambulate across North America from West to East. An ambitious plan! He walked 1,400 miles into Russia, alone and penniless. He was arrested on the orders of Catherine the Great who believed he was a French spy intent on stealing fur trading secrets.
Back in England, he was recruited to lead a group to the source of the Nile and trek from the Red Sea to the Atlantic. It was his last adventure. While in Alexandria, he developed digestive troubles. Unfortunately, one of the remedies associated with his symptoms involved the ingestion of sulfuric acid. Ledyard followed this course of treatment and it killed him. He is buried in a sand dune on the banks of the Nile, a river, like the Connecticut, of some note. He was 37 years old.
But every spring, a few dozen Dartmouth seniors and some nostalgic alumni load up their coolers and canoes and slip them into the Connecticut River just below the Ledyard Bridge. They push off downstream with the same sense of adventure and love of nature that John Ledyard displayed a couple of centuries ago. The Ledyard Canoe Club sponsors paddling trips, races, and events all over the world. It is a leader in water-based research and environmental education. John Ledyard would be proud of the work and traditions carried on in his name.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
—Rudyard Kipling, ca. 1895
“Can you take me fishing?” If you are a parent who fishes, that request from your child may prompt the proverbial happy dance. Most anglers pray that their kids will follow in their waders. However, if you can’t tell an improved clinch knot from a Windsor, or a yellow perch from a bullhead, you probably would rather be asked where babies originate. Without having done it, how does one explain the intricacies of threading a slimy red worm on to a No. 10 hook? Or, how to cast a line so the lure lands in the water, not in the grasp of a tree?
If you are among the uninitiated, fear not. There is help. All the states along the Connecticut River have programs designed to teach beginners—adults as well as kids—to fish. It’s also a no-brainer to ask angler friends for advice. Or just head to a tackle shop. The people behind the counter in tackle shops readily dispense fishing secrets. The more people they hook on fishing, the more customers for them. Most guys who run shops are decent sorts who love to talk fishing. And don’t be afraid to ask how to put a worm on a hook, or tie a knot.
Experienced anglers may have the know-how to teach for sure, but the old saw about having too much knowledge can apply if one is not careful. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to make your child a juvenile bass pro the first day out. Fight the urge to get your kid into the biggest fish possible the first day out. For most kids, the first fish ever caught is the trophy of a lifetime.
Whether you are a veteran fisher or a duffer, remember that the ultimate angling experience for a child is not reeling in a record billfish, but simply catching something—anything outside of an old shoe—when dunking a worm. Don’t forget that a child’s attention span can be short and easily change focus—putting down the fishing pole to chase after a frog or looking at a water strider is part of the fun. If fishing becomes work rather than fun, it defeats the purpose.
It’s a good idea to stick with freshwater fishing at first because it offers a wide variety of fish suitable for kids who are just starting out with rod and reel. This holds true for our region, the Connecticut River watershed. The Connecticut River and associated streams have plenty of spots easy to reach and to fish from shore with children. Freshwater is also best for beginners because the gear required is simpler, cheaper, and lighter. Equipment for kids should be basic and easy to use. That does not mean cheap. Junky rods and reels function poorly after just a little use. There is nothing worse for a child than trying to learn how to cast with a reel that malfunctions. Programs that teach children fishing skills often use easy-to-operate spincast rods and reels. The spincast reel releases line at the push of button, which is right under the thumb while the reel is held in hand. It takes a little digital dexterity to operate. Expect to spend between $30 and $50 for a quality rod and reel.
For general freshwater fishing in our region, you can’t go wrong with six-to-eight-pound monofilament fishing line. Figure about $10 for sufficient line. Forget about filling a tackle box with costly lures. For beginners, a good choice is a rig of bobber, lead split shot for weight, and a no. 6 or no. 8 hook. Bait can be earthworms, mealworms, or crickets. If you are new to fishing knots, learn and use the simple “improved clinch knot.” The internet is loaded with websites showing how to tie knots, set up rigs, and affix bait to hooks.
What fish to target first? “Sunfish,” particularly the ubiquitous bluegill, say Thomas Bourret and Jason Wiggins, fishing gurus who run Connecticut’s beginner fishing program. When hooked, a bluegill zigs and zags with abandon, enough to make the contest exciting but easy enough to land. If there are bluegills around, they often hit the moment a worm drops into the water. They bite so readily on bait that fishermen who are after bass or trout consider them a nuisance.
Easy to catch with a huge variety of baits from worms to marshmallows, channel catfish are another good bet for kids, says Bourett. Channel cats are hefty, too; fish typically caught in the Connecticut go between two pounds to several times that weight. Connecticut and Massachusetts have populations of channel catfish long naturalized in the Connecticut River. Fish from Massachusetts have expanded upriver and are showing up as far as Bellows Falls.
“I absolutely believe that the Connecticut River is a world-class catfish fishery,” says Wiggins, who says he has seen many anglers taking cats up to 12 pounds from its waters. “It is a hidden gem.”
When it comes to great places for kids to fish the Connecticut says Wiggins, “The first spot that comes to mind is Haddam Meadows State Park, on the main river near the center of Haddam. It is prime catfish territory and also a favorite spot for pike fishermen. Another top place for kids to fish,” he says, “is at the Salmon State Boat Launch, where the Salmon meets the Connecticut in East Haddam.”
“Retreat Meadows near Brattleboro and White’s Cove at the mouth of the Black River in Springfield are two popular fishing areas that are well-suited for teaching kids to fish,” says John Hall of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Outreach Division. New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department promotes Patch Park, Charlestown, and the Connecticut River Hinsdale Setbacks in Hinsdale as especially good places to take children to fish.
A fishing access area in the Hatfield section of the Connecticut River is one of several places on the main river in Massachusetts recommended as a good spot for beginners. Another—which draws a myriad of anglers in general, is the historic Oxbow Pond, state-controlled along its entire circumference (The Oxbow, part of the ancient riverbed that horseshoes off the main river in Northampton, was the subject of a famed painting by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, in the 1830s).
Before heading out to the fishing hole, be aware that while fishing in public waters you may be approached by someone in a uniform asking to see your papers. You should check the appropriate state fisheries agency to determine license and perhaps special permits required under law. Kids under 16 years in Connecticut and under 15 years in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire do not need fishing licenses. Make sure you have a copy of fishing regulations for the state in which you are fishing. Know size and creel limits and restrictions on tackle and bait. There is nothing like getting on the wrong side of a guy in uniform and wearing a badge to spoil a good day of fishing. And speaking of such, conservation officers—or game wardens to use a term from the past—are not out to get you, as long as you are not a violator. They are there to help and if you come across one while fishing, ask what’s biting and where. Chances are you will get some good tips.
Ed Ricciutti is a veteran journalist and author. He writes mainly about nature. He has written for the Hartford Courant, Science Digest, Field & Stream, Wildlife Conservation, and Fly Rod & Reel. He has published 80 books. He practices what he has preached as he has fished and hunted all over the world. His stories smack of having “been there, done that.”
One May morning in 1638, a ship slipped down the Thames River in England bound across the Atlantic Ocean. The doughty craft’s destination was the Connecticut River. Deep in her hold were boxes and barrels packed with seeds, cuttings, and saplings. The cargo comprised a formal English garden to be transplanted where only a short time prior the blood of English colonists and their indigenous enemies seeped into loamy Connecticut soil. Below decks, in a cramped cabin shared with her husband and infant son, an extraordinary free-spirit who was to become “the most magical and mysterious woman in Connecticut River history” planned her plantings and battled mal de mer.
Her name was Alice Fenwick. A previous marriage to an English peer, Sir John Botelor, who died shortly after their wedding, allowed her to add “Lady” to her name. Her current husband, George Fenwick was of aristocratic, but not noble, blood. He was a lawyer turned adventurer who set forth from England to take command of the fort where the “Long Tidal River” debouches into Long Island Sound. Since the Dutch were banished from the river and the fierce Pequot interlopers were vanquished, his charge was to establish a safe haven for the anti-Monarchists fomenting political and religious turmoil in England.
Lady Fenwick was determined to literally put down roots in this wild, new land. Her goal was to replant her familiar flowers, fruits, and herbs and to learn the nutritional and healing properties of the botanicals that River Indians cultivated for thousands of years. For Lady Alice, plants were sources of life that not only fed bodies, but also fed spirits with their beauty. They could heal and prevent illness, and stave off melancholia. She brought a powerful pharmacopeia to the Connecticut Colony along with a willingness to seek knowledge from its original inhabitants. She was not prejudiced against the local population, and they responded by sharing their plant lore and culture along with a deep sense of friendship and respect.
Her husband designed the colony’s seal and penned its motto “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” the transplanted shall sustain, in homage to her horticultural abilities. The seal, with its grape vines and Latin words, is still used almost 400 years later. But Lady Fenwick was more than a gifted gardener. She had skills that suited her pioneering persona. She was a crack shot and hunter; she could row or sail small boats with ease and skill; she sat a horse perfectly and sang madrigals almost always on key. Her contemporaries spoke of her kind and caring disposition and never failed to note her comeliness.
Alas, no images of Lady Alice survive. All that is left of her physical self is a lock of hair displayed at the Old Saybrook Historical Society. How they came to possess it is another numinous chapter in her legend. Sadly, Lady Fenwick died shortly after giving birth in 1645. Her distraught husband returned to England to fight against King Charles. He gave command of the Saybrook fort to Matthew Griswold, a lawyer and stone cutter. Griswold fashioned a tombstone out of Portland brownstone, and vowed that it would be cared for in perpetuity. His family still keeps that vow in the 21st century.
But Lady Alice did not always rest in peace. In 1870, the Valley Railroad built a warehouse on her burial site. She was exhumed. Her skeleton was in excellent condition as was her long, red hair. Her remains were displayed in a Saybrook home. It was a custom at the time to keep the hair of the deceased as momento mori. Alice’s locks began to disappear with the scissor snips of local women who whispered of her magical powers. Lady Fenwick was quickly reburied while she still had some tresses. Undeterred, women began to visit her stone and chip off pieces to capture a bit of her occult power. A wrought-iron fence was placed around her burial site to protect her monument. She rests at Cypress Hill Cemetery in Old Saybrook. A replica of her garden can be found at the local historical society.
Centuries after her brief time on the river, Lady Fenwick’s legacy is still felt in the surge of the spring freshet and the annual bloom of her beloved flowers. One local historian posits the idea that she was reincarnated as Katherine Hepburn, who lived in Lady Fenwick’s bailiwick and embodied her strength, spirt, and beauty. Both women left imprints of remarkable energy and power on the place they loved. Their magic can still be felt in the essence of the water that flows unendingly past their Old Saybrook home at the mouth of the Connecticut River.
A Rude Awakening and Call to Action
"These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife."
–Ken Rosenberg, Cornell’s conservation scientist
One of us visited the heart of the Soviet Union during its latter days and was struck by the absence of birds in general, and certainly the absence of avian variety. Among the major differences between the USSR and North America was the lack of proven, sensible environmental laws and regulations governing such things as pesticides, hedgerow preservation, and land use in the Soviet Union. This fall, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology spearheaded a sobering report, “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313 (2019), that forces us to moderate our pride in environmental regulations at home. The 11 authors, from government agencies and NGOs across the US and Canada, analyzed data collected over 50 years from a suite of A Rude Awakening and Call to Action governmental and citizen science programs. They found that the number of birds in North America has declined by nearly one third, or a loss of 2.9 billion birds, since 1970. According to Cornell’s conservation scientist, Ken Rosenberg, “These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.”
The study raises at least two important questions of interest to those of us who live in the Connecticut River Watershed: First, which of our local birds are declining in number? The study says that grassland birds such as bobolinks have declined by more than 50%, and that more than 90% of the bird losses are from just twelve bird families such as sparrows, finches, and swallows. Redwinged Blackbirds, abundant within the CT River Valley, have declined on the North American continent from 260 million 50 years ago to 170 million today.
In terms of what each of us non-farmers can do to stem this decline, we should keep our cats indoors, make our windows bird-friendly, and support our local conservation groups. In coming issues, we will have more to say about this, but for now, let’s cherish what we have and work hard to better share this planet with all its creatures.
Professor in the Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University
and Curator of Ornithology at
Cornell’s Museum of Vertebrates
There’s good reason that magazines such as Outside and National Geographic have repeatedly recognized Northampton, Massachusetts, and the small communities surrounding it, as one of the best places in America for outdoor activities. The three counties hugging the banks of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts boast easy access to dozens of state forests and parks, a national scenic trail, dramatic views and, of course, the ever-present river, threading through the center of the Valley.
Getting outdoors here on foot, in a kayak (or even in your car) is sure to provide numerous opportunities to connect to nature and the pastoral landscape that is as central to the region’s heart as pavement is to a major city. But, if you really want to experience the soul of the Valley, explore it by bicycle.
The Connecticut River valley is rich with beautiful cycling routes. Whether you prefer rolling along gravel roads into forgotten villages, a leisurely ramble through river valley farm fields and meadows, or cruising along a protected bike path on the banks of a canal, the region offers options to fill a day, a long weekend or a week-long visit. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some options to explore on your own (including one of our favorite routes) and some fun organized events. In addition, we’ll point you to some places to learn about accommodations and other visitor activities.
On Your Own
Northampton Area Bike Trails
The Northampton area offers a delightful network of paved bicycle paths connecting Easthampton, Amherst, Florence, and Haydenville. They include the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail, and the City of Northampton’s excellent network of trails connecting parks, neighborhoods, and the vibrant Main St. The Friends of the Northampton Trails and Greenways has produced some great MAPS and you can find paper maps in bike shops like Northampton Bicycle (you can rent bikes there too!)
Franklin County Bikeway System
The northern portion of the Valley boasts the amazing Franklin County Bikeway system. These mapped and signed routes total approximately 240 miles in length and cover all of Franklin County, with connections to bordering counties and states. Much of the bikeway network consists of on-road or shared roadway sections that make use of predominantly low-traffic roads passing through pastoral farmlands and small hill town communities. There are several off-road bike paths as well that provide connections suitable for all riders. You can pick up maps at many of the local bike shops and the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
One of our Favorite Rides
Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route
The Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route rolls along the quiet back roads and pathways in Sunderland and Montague. The 23-mile route offers lovely views of a working canal and the Connecticut and Sawmill Rivers and features three impressive waterfalls. It also passes by a charming old bookshop and café, the perfect spot to grab a snack or lunch during your ride. With only 650 feet of climbing, this route is one that many cyclists can enjoy. Because it’s an “out and back” ride, the Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route presents opportunities to begin at either end or even somewhere in the middle. We recommend beginning near the bike path entrance on First St. in Turners Falls, Massachusett. Learn more at the Brooks, Books, and Waterfalls Route.
River Valley Ice Cream Ride
The River Valley Ice Cream Ride blends the best of summertime fun—bikes, gorgeous roads, and ice cream. And, it supports Pioneer Valley organizations working to strengthen our communities, build our agricultural economy, and enhance biking in the region. Three routes (Kiddie Scoop Loop, Single Scoop Loop, and the Double Scoop Loop) offer options for young families, casual cyclists, and advanced riders. All participants are treated to delicious Bart’s Ice Cream along the route and at the riverside festival with a summer-fresh buffet of locally-sourced foods, kid’s activities, and live music at the starting point in Turners Falls.
The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee or D2R2 was conceived in the 1990s as just a favorite dirt road loop in the hill towns of Franklin County, Massachusetts. Since its birth as an organized event in 2005, the event has attracted as many as 1500 riders and has been hailed as the hardest, most beautiful, most fun, most traffic-free, most unique, and overall best ride that they have ever done. The route uses the narrowest, oldest, twistiest, quietest, and most-scenic roads available and offers options for novices as well as the world’s strongest riders.
Bikefest & Tour of the Valley
The Northampton Bikefest & Tour of the Valley is a bicycle tour and festival occurring in September each year. The event offers seven marked routes ranging from 8 miles to a full century (100 miles). The event also includes a fun festival with post-ride buffet, local craft beers, kid’s activities, and live music.
Off The Bike
The Valley area offers plenty to do after you get off your bike as well. Northampton is one of New England’s most vibrant small cities bustling with restaurants and shops along its broad Main Street. Or visit the 18th century homes along “the Street” in Historic Deerfield or stop by the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls to learn about the natural history of the Connecticut River, an ever-present companion throughout your visit here.
Two of the local chambers of commerce highlight outdoor recreation activities among their offerings and provide connections to overnight accommodations, restaurants, shopping, and other visitor activities:
Franklin County Chamber of Commerce
Northampton Chamber of Commerce
About River’s Edge Cycling
Gary and Maureen Briere at River’s Edge Cycling began introducing cyclists to the exceptional bicycling available in Western New England in 2014. Since then, they’ve welcomed thousands of cyclists from around the world to discover the scenic back roads and charming small villages hidden from the views of most area visitors. They’re offering seven bicycle tours in 2020 ranging from single day events to week-long, multi-state cycling adventures. They also offer custom tours for families and corporate clients. Learn more at River’s Edge Cycling.
Where Have All the Birds Gone?
A recent study by Cornell University found that there are nearly 30 percent fewer birds in North America than there were in 1970. The team from Cornell analyzed data from long-term bird monitoring programs and also radar images of migration to conclude that there were nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America than there were in 1970. While the study did not look into the causes of such declines, other studies have shown that the primary cause of bird population declines is the loss and/or degradation of habitat in the breeding, wintering, and migratory stopover areas. Other causes likely driving the losses include non-native invasive species, introduced predators, including cats, pollution, and collisions with windows, buildings, and tall communications towers. Disease and over-harvesting may be a factor in some of the bird’s declines. Of course, the twin threats of climate change and rising sea levels are greatly accelerating habitat loss and degradation.
While the numbers are shocking, the overall finding isn’t that surprising to those of us who have followed bird population trends from surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, a long-term bird monitoring program of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The results of that survey, as analyzed by the US Geological Service Biological Resources Division show that some of our most common and familiar birds have undergone dramatic declines in North America since the inception of the survey in 1966. For example, Red-winged Blackbirds have declined nearly 35 percent between 1966 and 2015, Common Grackles by nearly 58 percent, Wood Thrush by more than 60 percent, Field Sparrows by nearly 70 percent, and Rusty Blackbirds by nearly 83 percent.
Habitat destruction of wintering areas in the tropics is an issue that has received much attention as a cause of population declines for our migratory birds, but studies have shown that population declines in North American breeding areas are not even across the board geographically. It seems that population declines are most prominent in areas where breeding habitat in our own region has been degraded. It is easy to think of conservation as something that is needed in far away and exotic lands, such as the Amazon Rainforest, but a recent study by Connecticut Bird Conservation Research Inc. has shown that in areas of eastern Connecticut where large forest blocks remain mostly untouched by development that populations of many birds have actually increased over the past 30 years. Our actions right here in the Connecticut River Watershed can make a difference, good or bad, for our nesting birds of conservation concern. There are also conservation success stories. Populations of Piping Plovers, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon have all been on the upswing thanks to local and regional conservation efforts and changes in national policy, showing that with a little help from us, nature can be resilient and bounce back.
The Connecticut River in particular holds critical nesting areas for many bird species of conservation concern. From nesting areas for the globally threatened Bicknell’s Thrush in the high peaks of the Green and White Mountains, to the lowland wetland haunts of the Rusty Blackbird in Vermont and New Hampshire, to the deciduous woodland homes of the Wood Thrush and Worm-eating Warbler in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Critical grasslands support nesting Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Grasshopper Sparrows, and globally significant wetland and beach habitats support important populations of Saltmarsh Sparrow and Piping Plovers where the river meets Long Island Sound.
To learn more about what you can do to help stem these declines in our area, please see:www.ctaudubon.org/2020/01/10-actions-you-can-take-in-2020-to-help-connecticuts-birds/
By Edward Ricciuti
Photography Christopher Zajac
At 85 years, Chet Reneson of Lyme, Connecticut, who has for decades perched on the pinnacle of sporting art, is still on his game with more commissions than he can handle. Those in the know about his paintings of hunting, fishing, and nature included in the genre of wildlife art would say it is because of his talent, but Reneson, who has lived most of his life in the Connecticut River’s estuary country, cites an additional reason. “Most of the other top sporting art painters are dead,” he says.
To help recruit new talent, Reneson says he prodded the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Conservation to open competition for art used on the state’s waterfowl hunting stamp, which all waterfowl hunters must purchase and carry, to young in-state artists. Starting next year the stamp, which funds conservation and purchase of waterfowl habitat, will feature the winning artwork from the Connecticut Junior Duck Stamp Competition, open to youngsters from kindergarten through high school.
The stamp was initiated in 1993 but until Reneson’s own work appeared on it in 2018, no Connecticut artist had won the competition. His selection happened only by chance when a friend saw a small painting in a desk drawer at Reneson’s rambling, 200-year-old home. Reneson had submitted it, unsuccessfully, to the federal waterfowl stamp competition in 1962 shortly after graduating from the University of Hartford Art School, dead broke. At his friend’s suggestion, he entered the old painting in the state contest and won.
The painting shows two surf scoter sea ducks flying over water. Before submitting, he added one addition into the scene, tailoring it for Connecticut. On the horizon behind the ducks he painted the Old Saybrook breakwater and lighthouse at the mouth of the Connecticut River.
It was fitting. Of all the places he has visited and painted, says Reneson, his life and work have been shaped most by the estuary of the Connecticut. Reneson paints from experience and his leathery face, etched by the outdoors, reflects it. It has been burned by sun glaring off Bahamian bonefish flats, chilled by the clinging fog of Scotland’s moors, and the surf smashing Maine’s coast—and, most importantly—blown by the cut of winter wind whipping the spartina cordgrass of the Great Island marsh in the heart of the Connecticut’s estuary. Life on the River molded his feeling for wildlife and the outdoors.
Most of his adult life has been on the shores of the estuary, which early in his marriage even provided him and his wife Penny with fish and game to eat. It also landed him his first job, illustrating the innards of aircraft engines at Pratt & Whitney in Middletown, Connecticut. Fresh out of school and scratching out a living at a chicken farm, he had loaded a few cork duck decoys he had made into his boat at Lord Cove in Old Lyme when another duck hunter approached to admire them. To shorten the story, the man’s father was an executive at the aerospace company and hooked up Reneson with a job.
The work paid bills but was not satisfying. He took a risk and started freelancing wildlife illustrations for publishers in New York City. Nervously, he toted some of his work into a prestigious Manhattan gallery, the Crossroads of Sport. His genius was recognized and he was on his way.
Reneson’s big break came at a most propitious time the mid-1960s. Sporting and wildlife art boomed as it rode the crest of the surging environmental movement. It was a seller’s market, and sporting art was sucked up by galleries and print houses. Prints became hot items for investors and collectors. Conservation groups, such as Ducks Unlimited and the Connecticut Audubon Society, hooked up with artists to offer their works. Production houses and publishers made millions. Commissions piled up for artists like Reneson. One day, he dropped two paintings at a Manhattan gallery, and went to lunch. When he returned, the paintings were gone. “Where the hell are my paintings?” he growled. “Already sold,” he was told.
Reneson’s work has been sought by top magazines and featured on covers of Sports Afield, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and Sporting Classics. He has been named Artist of the Year multiple times by Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Top galleries feature his work, including The Cooley Gallery of Old Lyme, noted for paintings by American Impressionists and artists from the Hudson River School. Reneson had a one-man show there a year ago and will do another next year. Some artists lose their touch as they age, said gallery owner Jeff Cooley. “Chet gets better as he gets older. He is doing his best work yet.”
Although Cooley has shown some other sporting art in the past, it is not the gallery’s forte. Cooley says Reneson’s work goes beyond the sporting reality. “It is his landscapes,” he says, that make the difference. “Chet has a tremendous sense of color and of nature. His art would be remarkable without a single gun or fly rod in the depiction,” Cooley says.
Reneson does not bluff by painting wildlife and environments he has never seen. “I only paint from experience,” says he, a fact noted by another Connecticut sporting artist, Robert K. Abbett of Brookfield, in the text for a sumptuous picture book, The Watercolors of Chet Reneson (Silver Quill Press 2001). “The art of Chet Reneson is successful for several reasons, only one of them being its grounding in the realities of imagery, of nature, and of personal experience…In sporting art, there is little that can substitute for being there…”
In Reneson’s art, shooters do not just point a shotgun but lean properly into it as they prepare to fire. Ducks setting their wings are positioned correctly into the wind, the direction of which is evident from the bent of vegetation. The foliage around a grouse hunter matches that growing during the legal grouse season, not a time of year when bird hunting would be illegal. The graceful arch of the fly rod lines up perfectly with the fish churning water at canoe side.
Reneson seems to revel in wild weather, especially the cold, as one might expect for someone who characterizes duck hunters, who avoid Great Island once December cold arrives, as “candy asses.” If the man has been shaped by the places he has frequently hunted and fished, so has his painting. The landscapes of his water fowl art are often brooding, sometimes bordering on scary. Looking at his marsh grasses bowed before the winter wind can make one reach for a sweater. When Reneson speckles the air around the grass with snowflakes, it can make you shiver. Most of Reneson’s work has been watercolor, for which the publisher of Wildlife Art magazine has called him a “master.” Today, he paints mostly with acrylics.
Perhaps Reneson’s biggest professional credit is that he makes a good living from his art. It was not always so. Reneson is a son of Connecticut’s land. Born in Cromwell, he grew up on farms in Durham and Colchester, where his family raised ring-necked pheasants for game preserves. He worked hard as a boy, and painting, he says, “was a release.” By the time he started driving a tractor at 10 years, he had already started painting waterfowl and deer; a painting of a great horned owl done at age 12 hangs in his home. “Great owls killed our pheasants,” he recalls. His equipment was rudimentary; early paintings were on Masonite. He carried his portfolio around wrapped in baling twine.
Like any pro, says Reneson, “I paint for money.” Truth told—he readily admits it—the business end of his operation is handled by his wife, Penny. She started the advertising, the website, the print sales, and just about everything else pertaining to the business end.
“This is where she works,” says Reneson, almost reverently, pointing to a desk in their home—which also contains his studio—appropriately with no frills, and low-tech. If you e-mail him, Penny answers. “Chet doesn’t ‘do’ computers,” she explains. That figures. Penny, by the way, has not been a stay-at-home spouse while her husband jaunts off to hunt and fish. She has been with him on the bonefish flats, canoeing the backwaters of Maine, and just about everywhere else he has gone.
Penny recognizes that painting is life to her husband. “…He does what he does and gets paid for it,” says Penny. In a world of wannabes, the mark of a professional artist is the ability to earn enough to work at what one loves. Earning power divides a vocation from an avocation, amateur from pro.
It is possible that paint, not blood, runs through Reneson’s veins. “Would Chet paint if he was independently wealthy?” asks Penny rhetorically. “It is my belief that he would. It is something that he was born with and he is driven to do it. He sometimes talks about retiring, but I don’t think that he could.”
The tranquility and stunning grandeur of the Connecticut River inspires poets, artists, and musicians. It also attracts picnickers, boaters, and tourists seeking fun and adventure. Like all rivers, however, the Connecticut River is influenced by forces of gravity that move water from source to terminus, or in this case, the half mile of vertical drop from Canada to the River’s mouth at Long Island Sound. Over its 410-mile serpentine course, 35 major rivers and 148 tributaries feed the main stem of the river. The sheer volume of water cascading toward the mouth and emptying into Long Island Sound is noteworthy. A fire hose of fresh water spills out 20,000 cubic feet per second, which contributes 70 percent of the fresh water in the Sound. But for all of the statistics and superlatives associated with this heavy weight waterway, the final, brackish 35 miles of the Connecticut River earns ultra-varsity status for its ecological importance as an estuary of regional and even international distinction. The Connecticut River Estuary is a much-heralded alluvial end point and tidal wetland mosaic. Its significance is measured partially by the properties of the water itself and by the spectacular profusion of biodiversity that is documented year-round by casual observers, serious nature observers, and scientists. A constant supply of organic material suspended in the water column from upriver and its vast watershed, permeates the relatively undisturbed tidal habitat at the mouth and fuels all levels of the food chain. Avian superstars like Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys, and even two species of Sturgeon are attracted to this habitat hot spot for New England, similar to the species magnet of a tropical rain forest or a coral reef in more equatorial regions. Here, at the “meeting of the waters,” where incoming tidal and salty water mixes with the outgoing torrent of fresh river water, the sheer energy of the current and tides and the flux of sand, sediment, and detritus make the Connecticut River Estuary an ecological and hydrodynamic powerhouse among the great river deltas of the world, including the Amazon.
In and around this aqueous mixing bowl, a menagerie of flora and fauna seeks shelter, breeding sites or a strategic migratory stopover place critical to their sustainability. When this meandering course of river water approaches its terminus, the diurnal pulse of the incoming tides creates a formidable wedge of salt water in the water column. The density of the waters is different, creating a layering of nutrients and phyto and zooplankton communities. Ultimately, this aqueous stratification enhances the role of the Connecticut River Estuary and its salt marsh margins as important nursing grounds for fish, haven for juvenile fish, and a critical migratory highway for fish including Menhaden, Shad, and Herring.
The river mouth also features a formidable sediment plume that fans out for miles into the Sound. This shelf of silt with shifting sandbars has been the most important physical factor in keeping the Connecticut River Estuary relatively natural and undisturbed. Missing is the artificial hardening of the riverbanks in the form of jetties, seawalls, and urban port city infrastructure typical of major deltas in the world. The geometry of the river is relatively unaffected by human intervention. Consequently, most of the delta is still natural. This gives the estuarine ecosystem a chance to absorb storm water surges, prevent erosion, and let nature flourish. According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, “the lower Connecticut River, beginning at its mouth, contains one of the least developed or undisturbed large river tidal river system in the entire United States and the most pristine large-river tidal marsh in the Northeast.”
This estuarine kaleidoscope of hydrology, geology, and biology attract world-renowned scientists conducting multi-million dollar research in what is regarded as a living lab. Of scientific interest is the array of biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) properties of this complicated interface of water and land. Be it long-term monitoring or more crisis driven research, scientists are attracted to the Connecticut River Estuary to study features like the water column itself, the sediment, the underwater acoustics, the benthic invertebrates (clams and worms living on the river bottom), the aquatic vegetation, the salt marsh grasses, and numerous bird species including the federally endangered birds and fish that rely on this ecosystem for survival.
Scientists from universities and institutions including, Yale, Boston College, Wesleyan, U/Mass Amherst, Cornell, Connecticut College, UConn, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute conduct their investigations in research vessels, Zodiacs, kayaks or along the banks in rubber boots. A variety of federally endangered or threatened species are the focus of researchers in the Connecticut River Estuary. Among them are Roseate Terns that forage for abundant fish at the mouth and Piping Plovers that nest on sandy beaches fringing the estuary. UConn ornithologists are also studying the dwindling population of Salt Marsh Sparrows nesting in the Connecticut River Estuary marsh grasses that are currently flooding more frequently with epic tides. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology directs another avian project with local facilitation by the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. In question is the exact quantity of migratory Tree Swallows descending on a roost site on an uninhabited estuary island. It is guessed that over half a million Tree Swallows roost on Goose Island each night in September and scientists want to learn more about this annual phenomenon of nature. Ichthyologists are also studying the Short-nosed and Atlantic Sturgeon that travel upriver from the ocean and return to the estuary to feast on the cafeteria of invertebrates living in the organic material accumulated on the river bottom. The National Marine Fisheries Service has designated the Connecticut River Estuary as a “habitat of critical importance” for the Atlantic Sturgeon.
“A million pounds of mud come down the Connecticut River every year,” says Dr. Wayne Geyer a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who tracks the peculiarities of the salt and fresh water layers of the Connecticut River Estuary. It is this precious “mud” that fuels every level of the food chain that flourishes in the Connecticut River Estuary. The organic material suspended in the water column and deposited in areas like the salt marsh grasses sustains this exceptionally vital estuarine ecosystem, second to none in New England.
The mouth of the Connecticut River, with its plume of sediment and life supporting estuary and wetlands has also garnered the attention of the federal government. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recently identified the Connecticut River Estuary as a potential site worthy of inclusion onto a rarified list of 29 estuaries in the United States designated as National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR). The designation would attract scientists and strengthen the potential for funding for continued research, education, and stewardship of the Connecticut River Estuary. Working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), UCONN, and environmental groups like the Connecticut Audubon Society, NOAA is currently reviewing this important initiative, which would designate the Connecticut River Estuary as the first NERR in Connecticut.
Humans are attracted to the estuary for its beauty and tranquility, but beneath the serene vista stirs a life force and aquatic energy that is best appreciated by migratory herring, filter feeding clams or foraging Sturgeon. The estuary is an ecological jewel that plays a critical role in contributing to the biodiversity of our region and thus, to life on earth.