Hot towns, summer on the river

People seeking relief from heat and boredom flocked to the Housatonic River between the Great Falls in Salisbury and Falls Village, downstream to Bulls Bridge in Kent this summer.

With the closing of state parks and other COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the river was one of a very few remaining outdoor recreation options.

Towns, state government agencies, the First Light power company and private organizations scrambled to cope with the increased crowds and problems of trash disposal, inexperienced swimmers and hikers, and the near-total absence of sanitary facilities.

A massive crowd, estimated in the hundreds, came to the picnic area on Dugway Road in Amesville on Saturday, July 4.

Similar overcrowding forced the closure of the Bulls Bridge and North Kent Road recreation areas in Kent.

Throughout the summer, there were consistent problems with cars parked on narrow roads, especially on Housatonic River Road in the Amesville section of Salisbury. Town officials fielded a large number of complaints, and State Police responded — on occasion. One concern was that the sheer number of cars made it difficult for emergency vehicles to get through.

Despite the First Light recreation areas being officially closed, visitors simply moved sawhorses and took down hazard tape.

Visitors ignored signs stating the area was closed and clambered around the falls, jumping off into the water.

Popular angling access areas in the Trout Management Area (from the junction of Routes 7 and 112 in Salisbury and Falls Village downstream to the junction of Routes 4 and 7 in Cornwall and Sharon) were crowded, not with anglers (for the most part) but with picnickers and swimmers. There were 19 cars wedged into the Cellar Hole on Saturday, July 18, and the next morning there were six large plastic bags of garbage, neatly packaged, waiting for someone to pick them up.

That someone was probably from the Housatonic Valley Association, which had groups of interns out on the river doing outreach and handing out trash bags. Citizen groups also helped with trash cleanup.

Over the summer, volunteer fire and rescue squads responded to at least two emergencies at the falls, on July 5 and July 22.

Officials at the town and state level expressed frustration at the situation. Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand said on Monday, July 20,“You can’t take the river and the Appalachian Trail away. They belong to the people.”

At the same time, “First Light owns the access” and is obligated to make recreation opportunities available to the public.

“It’s hot,” Rand said. “And everything’s closed everywhere else.”

And on Sunday, July 19, state Sen. Craig Miner (R-30) noted the widespread closing of parks and beaches elsewhere in the state. “When we give the public no alternatives, we shouldn’t be surprised when they find something else.”

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