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Lange: River Camping

06/08/12 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is a writer and storyteller who says that paddling the Connecticut River has always been popular, but camping along its banks has been difficult - until now. 

(Lange) New Hampshire and Vermont lie side-by-side through a full 2 1/2 degrees of latitude, but they don't touch each other anywhere. The Connecticut River, like a great irregular zipper, flows between them, separating the sweet, alkaline soils of Vermont from the acidic granite of its sister to the east. New Hampshire owns the river all the way to the Vermont shore, but a resident fishing license from either state is legal anywhere in the river up to the first highway crossing of a tributary on the opposite shore. Pretty good deal.

The river was once a thoroughfare: the easiest traveling north and south from Long Island Sound toward Canada. The French and Indian raiders who burned Deerfield, Massachusetts, in February 1704 herded their captives north over the ice. Robert Rogers' Rangers retreated south down the river in 1759 from their raid on St. Francis, Quebec. Later, flatboats carried freight between the rapids. And till about 100 years ago, the river carried massive drives of saw logs and pulp every spring to mills downstream. When I moved to the valley in 1968, it was still so polluted that it burned your eyes during kayak-rolling practice. The Clean Water Act updates of 1972 has done wonders

Today, except for a few wild rapids in its upper section, the river's pretty tame, thanks to computer-controlled power dams that regulate its flow. It's safer to live beside it now than it once was, which is reflected in the price of river-front property. College and prep school crews race on its quiet sections, and bass fishermen with tiny electric motors cast along the shores. But it's still probably the best-kept recreation secret in New England.

In recent years the development of affordable plastic canoes and kayaks has increased activity on the water. But paddlers who want to camp overnight have had difficulty finding dedicated sites.

Not any more. Thanks to the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the Vermont River Conservancy, and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, there are now campsites all along the upper river, maintained by local volunteers. This weekend I'll be joining a River Conservancy party working on a river access point in Guildhall, Vermont. Then we'll paddle downstream, camping overnight, and be home for supper Sunday. We hope the weather will be pleasant. You never know whether, at the end of one of these trips, you'll be sunburned or soaking wet. But it doesn't matter; it's a beautiful river.

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

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