Register Citizen August 5, 2020
Area leaders and organizations are coming together to find a long-term plan for safe and equitable access to the Housatonic River, accoding to a statement.
“The summer of 2020 is highlighting the urgent need for thoughtful solutions for river access. In the era of Covid-19, with public pools and beaches closed, more people than ever are visiting river access sites in northwest Connecticut. Overcrowding, public safety concerns and littering — all issues that have been trending over the last few years in this area — are multiplied in 2020 with more users, and the added concern of maintaining social distance,” members said in a statement. “The result is more state and town closures of public recreation areas, forcing more people to squeeze into fewer sites. Fewer places to get on the river is creating even more overcrowding and public safety issues at the sites that are still open- including swimming in areas that are unsafe.
“This is why the Housatonic River Commission and the Housatonic Valley Association have joined forces to mitigate the immediate issues they’re seeing from more visitors to the river this summer. HRC and HVA are also making a plan for bringing everyone that has a stake in recreational access on the Housatonic together to create long-term solutions to address these issues,” members said.
With support from HRC, First Light Power and Eversource Energy, HVA created the River Information and Outreach (RIO) program in 2018 as a response to increased use of unmanaged access sites along the Housatonic, according to the statement. RIO program staff visit popular spots along the River each weekend between July 4 and Labor Day to encourage behavior that keeps the River clean, and provide important information about site closures and river conditions, members said.
According to Lindsay Larson, HVA Conservation Projects Manager, “RIO has had a positive impact on these unmanaged access sites. Our conversations with people visiting these spots appear to have helped reduce littering, and they’ve also taught us so much about who visits these sites, and why.” HVA’s RIO Stewards have been out on the Housatonic between North Kent Road and Great Falls every weekend this summer.
Mike Jastremski, HVA’s Watershed Conservation Director, said, “Recreational use of the Housatonic, specifically for uses we aren’t as familiar with like picnicking, has been increasing steadily for years now. What we’re seeing in 2020 shouldn’t be surprising, with so many places folks might go to beat the heat closed. It’s obvious that we need new ideas for providing access to the river that consider all the different ways people want to spend time on the water, while protecting the health of the river and public safety. Ultimately, we want to work together to develop local solutions that will be effective over the long-term. And the best way to do that is to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
HVA and the HRC are organizing a series of mediated conversations about Housatonic River access this fall and winter, and are seeking input from stakeholders and the public. William Tingley, HRC Chair, said, “Creating good, solid access points along the Housatonic is a core part of our mission. I’m happy to have HVA as a partner in this effort.”
Larson said, “It’s unfortunate that so many sites along the Housatonic are closed, but we’re grateful to have this opportunity to pause and really think about how we manage access to open space in northwestern Connecticut. We’re looking forward to the day that these sites along the Housatonic can be reopened, with effective and consistent management practices that allow equitable river access for all user groups.”
To be a part of this community discussion, contact HVA Conservation Projects Manager Lindsay Larson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
HVA has offices in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut; Stockbridge, Massachusetts; and Wassaic, New York. For more information visit hvatoday.org.