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Slayton: Canoe Trip

06/21/12 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton is a long time journalist and observer of all things Vermont, who says that serious efforts to reclaim Vermont's rivers and streams have made it possible to enjoy considerable whitewater adventure right here at home.

(Slayton) Canoeing down a river, you hear the rapids long before you see them. The small ones whisper and the big ones rattle and roar.

I canoed the fast-moving upper reaches of the Connecticut River recently with the Vermont River Conservancy. It had been almost 30 years since I had paddled the upper Connecticut, and I had forgotten how much whitewater there is in that stretch of river - and how beautiful it is.

We paddled under a pure blue sky with the bright, bright greens of June in the forest on either side of the river. The water was quick-flowing, clean and clear. The bottom was sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy; you could see it clearly through four and five feet of water as we were swept along.

As we approached the end of the first day's paddle, Lyman Falls, we could hear it rumbling from far off. It's an old, shattered power dam with hazardous chunks of concrete and nasty bits of iron rebar sticking out. They impede the river's flow and make passage tricky. You definitely don't want to get hung up there.

But no problem, really. Our guide, Noah Pollock, had scouted the falls and found a clear passage on the left-hand side of the dam. All we had to do (Noah assured us) was stay to the left as we approached the dam, and we'd shoot through that left-side breach.

And sure enough, we did. We quickly ferried back across the river to the Vermont bank and - Voila! - we were at our campsite.

We established our little tent city in a field where Indian paintbrush and wild daisies bloomed. Then there was supper cooked over an open fire, music, singing, and laughter into the evening. S'mores for some, a few sips of whiskey for others, and finally to bed, snug in our tents, falling asleep to the rumbling music of Lyman Falls.

If anything, the upper Connecticut is in better shape now than when I first paddled it 30 years ago. The Vermont River Conservancy, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, among others, have cooperated to conserve land and watersheds, build campsites and improve access for paddlers to the Connecticut and other rivers.

These organizations and others have truly made a difference - they've helped turn the Connecticut River from a neglected open sewer to a delightful recreational resource that serves paddlers, fishermen and women, and anyone who loves free-flowing water. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

We began our next full day on the river early, splashing through a long series of brisk rapids, marveling at the natural beauty around us. Towards the end of the day, we saw not one, but three bald eagles soaring above the river.

We took it as a favorable omen. For the river.
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