Go With the Flow: It’s Whitewater Season

We outdoor enthusiasts typically have a make-lemonade-from-lemons attitude about foul weather.

When a blizzard approaches, while some race off to the supermarket to stock up on comfort food we start waxing our cross-country skis.

A prolonged cold snap? Never mind making sure there’s enough oil for the furnace, it’s time to sharpen the ice skates.

A tropical storm warning means boarding up windows, but for us, it’s surf’s up!

Fresh gale? Ideal for windsurfing.

And now, after a snow-filled winter raises fears of spring floods, we steer toward our favorite rivers for whitewater kayaking and canoeing.

Today – Saturday, March 16 – had been planned as the launch for the region’s first slalom race of the season, but organizers have delayed the event for a week because relentlessly cold weather has prevented enough snow and ice up north from melting.

That means you have another week to get ready for the Salmon River Slalom Race in Colchester, one of the most popular competitions that attracts both hard-core and novice paddlers.

I’ve paddled the Salmon many times, though never entered the slalom race, and I may join the fun March 23. The race takes place north of the Comstock Covered Bridge off Route 16, 6 miles west of Route 2, on a section of the river that features modest Class I and Class II rapids. The New England Slalom Series also plans to set up a beginner course and offer a clinic for new racers.

Even if you’re not competing the colorful, lively event is ideal for spectators and photographers, taking place in one of Connecticut’s most scenic state parks that also features the wonderful Airline Trail biking-hiking path converted from an old railroad bed.

Though the race does not incorporate the most challenging portion of the river, a broken dam just to the south of the course, adventurous paddlers may consider a short detour to run the breach. The 4-foot drop will get your heart pumping.

I’ve taken the plunge a couple dozen times and calculate about a 95-percent success rate. Just make sure you stay to the right, or west bank, and of course wear a helmet, PFD and have dry clothes nearby, just in case.

More information about the race is available from ness.whitewater-slalom.us, or by calling registrar Pete Cassebeer of Easthampton, Mass. at 413-210-2817.

All NESS races have a 125-boat limit so it's a good idea to register online or contact organizers to make sure slots are available for same-day registration.

If you can’t make next week’s competition the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association has scheduled a number of other races farther north in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including the Scantic Spring Splash March 30, the Ware River Icebreaker Race April 6, the Hockanum River Race April 7, the 50th Annual River Rat Race April 13 and the Lower Millers River Rumble April 13, also April 13.

More information is available on the association’s website, www.neckra.org.

Of course, you don’t have to enter a race to enjoy whitewater paddling.

In addition to the Salmon, paddlers from our neck of the woods in southeastern Connecticut can run rapids on the Shetucket in Baltic, various sections of the Yantic River in Lebanon and Bozrah, the Eightmile River in Lyme and the Wood River just across the border in Exeter, R.I.

Conditions can change dramatically from day to day depending on snow melt and rainfall, and this time of year can be particularly dangerous because of cold water and the likelihood of fallen branches, or “strainers,” so it always pays to scout a river before launching your boat, to practice rescue maneuvers, and to paddle with those who can help you get out of a tight spot.

More experienced paddlers can also take on Connecticut’s two big whitewater rivers, the Housatonic and the Farmington. Both of those feature Class IV rapids year-round, so I’d wait for warmer weather.

Stay safe, and happy paddling!

        *    *    *

Maple syrup footnote: A couple weeks ago, when writing about my maple syrup tradition, I promised to provide an update on this year’s production. My description parallels the output: Short but sweet.

Friends and I had a great time tossing wood onto an outdoor fire while about 20 gallons of sap boiled down to a half-gallon of delectable syrup, which we then poured over vanilla ice cream and/or Greek yogurt.

Even my hard-to-please buddy Bob had two helpings, and gushed, “Best ever.”




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