Deerfield Fest Trip Report with New Executive Director Clinton Begley
The Northeast paddling community really took me in during my short time living in the area, so it was refreshing to be back there and celebrating alongside them again at the 2022 Deerfield River Festival. And it was a great way to see some of the AW staff doing their thing! Northeast Stewardship Director Bob Nasdor and our Membership & Engagement Director Bethany Overfield managed to put on a remarkable event despite some real challenges, including with the releases we were there to celebrate, and I'm so glad they're on our team.
I was also able to meet and spend time with many outstanding members of the Northeast's paddling community including Tom Christopher, Rick Hudson, Bruce Lessels and others who fought hard for the Deerfield about 25 years before I dipped a paddle into it myself - an act that was only possible because of their work. We also commemorated the passing of Norm Sims this year, a long-time AW supporter who helped lay the foundation for many of the victories we enjoy today. It meant a lot to me to meet, and be welcomed by, these local giants on a river that is an important part of my personal paddling story. And, it was another reminder of the endurance this work requires. With this long history of successes as a backdrop, even on this festival weekend a coalition of AW staff and partners were at the table doing everything possible to hold Great River Hydro and Brookfield accountable to their legal obligations to provide releases their FERC permits require.
Despite the ultimate cancellation of the Dryway section releases on festival weekend due to a dam equipment failure, the paddling community rallied to support AW and enjoy the festival weekend. What followed was a beautiful and highly attended celebration of the Deerfield river in kayaks, rafts, open canoes, SUP's, tubes, and even a drift boat. River people are resilient, we have to be. This year's festival was held for the first time at Berkshire East. I'm grateful for the folks at Berkshire East for hosting the event this year in partnership with outfitters Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Whitewater. Together with support from our industry partners, this venue really brought together the paddling community alongside mountain bikers, hikers, and tubers who care for and enjoy this river, and support the local economy. It was as "easy" as a festival like this gets, and the celebration festivities couldn't have gone any more smoothly.
After the festival, we visited Mill City Park in Franklin, New Hampshire to check out New England's first whitewater park and comprehensive community restoration project. We surfed boogie boards alongside local youth and gestured up and down stream conjuring visions of a fully restored Lower Winnipesaukee river. In downtown Franklin, banners of kayakers hang from light-posts, broken kayaks turned into flower planters line the sidewalks, and young kids on foam boards share this friendly feature with kayakers throwing cartwheels and loops. None of this existed ~7 years ago when I lived nearby. The transformation of downtown Franklin into a bonafide river town is remarkable. I'm never surprised to see the power of rivers uplifting local communities, but I'm always delighted. Much like on the Deerfield to the south, the Mill City team, led by executive director Marty Parichand, also continues to exercise endurance, buoyed by success, as they look to the future of what is next for "the Winni."
This trip reaffirmed for me something I learned when I lived here - the stewardship ethic of New England runs deep. Compared to the Colorado basin, California, or the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast doesn't have the same scale of investment from large regional funders at the table. And yet there is no shortage of passionate and engaged paddlers doing right by their rivers anyway. I was glad to spend some time dreaming with them, and getting inspired by what we could do together in the years to come.
Image: Rick Hudson giving a tribute to Norm Sims