Access and local knowledge:
The Housatonic is one of the most endangered whitewater runs in the northeast. American Whitewater and the Housatonic Area Canoe and Kayak Squad (HACKS) have fought hard and unsuccessfully to secure releases on this run. There are strong fisherman lobby groups and developers at odds with the whitewater boaters. Letters writing and support of American Whitewater and, locally, the HACKS, can help ensure that this gem of a river will flow at sufficient levels for whitewater recreation.
The Bull's Bridge section starts above or below Staircase, a steep, class-V rapid that drops rapidly over a short distance and is choked with boulders. The "boaters' gauge" is on river right downstream of the covered bridge. It is visible from the window on the downstream side of the bridge.
The second rapid of note, the Flume, is a class-IV drop that is found below a wavetrain of shallow yet surfable waves (surfing rapid) and also below a difficult (class VI) rapid called Dead Horse that flows into the Housatonic on river right. The drop's namesake is a fairly forgiving chute of water that falls over a short ledge and is generally run right to left. This drop can be scouted on river right but it probably best scouted while in your warm cloths by hiking a short trail that is across the (non-covered) bridge from the parking area. There is a lookout platform upstream of this drop but it is not an effective view for scouting the drop.
Before the section of flatwater that follows the rapid below the flume, it is worth noting, is a large rock called House Rock. It is an excellent splat rock but use caution since the water beyond the upstream surface of the rock is shallow and squirrly, particularly at lower levels (around 1 foot on the boaters' gauge).
The next rapid, called S-Turn, is below a short flatwater gorge. It is a short rapid with a river wide ledge that is class III or IV depending on the river level. The main line is just off the left bank with some optional eddies above the drop in the center of the river (at lower levels, perhaps up to 4 feet on the boaters' gauge) and on the left shore adjacent to the ledge. At high levels (above 6 or 7 feet on the boaters' gauge), this rapid feeds, fairly seamlessly, into the next rapid and care should be taken to get right after clearing the ledge to avoid some large holes on river left. At lower levels (1-2 feet on the boaters' gauge), the ledge at S-Turn can be run right of center using a 'ski-jump' type feature that juts out of the rock.
S-Turn leads right into Pencil Sharpener, a class III or IV (depending on the level) rapid that can be run a variety of ways. It is entirely boat scoutable and full of eddies but gets pretty pushy at higher levels (above 6 feet on the boaters' gauge). It is probably good advice to avoid most of the right shore and the most brainless line is generally down the center. This is the most continuous rapid on the run and a wave train at the bottom is a popular surf spot for beginner level playboaters. Unfortunately, it isn't a very practical park-and-play destination.
In long stretch of slow moving water that follows Pencil Sharpener it is common to see Bald Eagles and other critters, primarily off the right bank near the area that was recently deforrested by developers (please support American Whitewater).
The run ends at a popular playspot called "Georgia's" or "George's" depending on who you're asking. There are surfing waves at most levels, but the main attraction is playable from around 6 inches to around 3 feet (your milage may vary) on the boaters' gauge.
The takeout is on river left in the parking area at the hydro plant. No trespassing signs are present but Connecticut Light and Power representitives have designated this spot as the takeout and local authorities commonly visit the area without incident. In fact, they seem to appreciate that the paddlers will keep watch for drunken yokels in pool toys.
Also check out the Rattlesnake section.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC). It is very interesting because it recommends modifying the DEP's 401 document to allow summer releases at Cornwall Bridge and recommends weekend releases at Bull's Bridge during the spring and one Weekend in the Fall. This is significant as it would require the DEP to modify the 401 document as it is mandatory part of the new license. How can FERC issue a license without this document? They can't so they can simply take No Action which is how the power plants are being operated now. This has preserved the releases at Cornwall Bridge for the last couple of years. The staff recommendations would preserve the Saturday releases at Cornwall Bridge which provides a lot of fun for a lot of novices and people just wanting to have a family day on the river. Significantly the staff recommendations would provide guaranteed water at Bull's during April for a 4 hour period. Even with all the rain we had this spring there were still long periods without enough water to paddle at Bull's. A designated parking area and access ramp are also recommended for the East side of the river. That would be the side that we can't get our boats down because it is all rip rap rock. It makes sense to provide some extra parking and easier access so that the sight seers and hikers can use the other parking and avoid congestion.
What does this mean?
It means we will have to write letters saying that we support the DEIS and keep the pressutre on the DEP to accept the changes. I will post addresses, talking points and sample letters after I digest this whole thing. The HACKS will have a meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss the DEIS. I can post the date and time when it is confirmed. Beer and Barbeque. A time to say thanks to all the people who have worked on this celebrate a little and recognize that we still have to stay vigilant and hope we can get the recognition that we as boaters have rights.
There will be two public hearings on the FERC draft report next month: One on Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. at Northville Elementary School in New Milford; another on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village.
Please come and express your support for whitewater releases on the Housatonic River. We have an opportunity to make an impact here. anyone need more information email me at email@example.com or come to the HACKS meeting Saturday 8-9 6:00
Written comments also may be sent to FERC until Sept. 17. Then a final version of the report will be adopted.
Here are a couple of sample letters. One for DEP and the other for FERC. FERC has an electronic comment but I haven't found a simple way to do it so snail mail might be best for now.
Magalie R. Salas, Secretary,
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington DC 20426
Ms. Salas; I am writing in reference to Project Nos. 2576-022 and 2597-019, the relicensing of the hydroelectric facilities on the Housatonic River in CT. I support the DEIS and the staff recommendations. In lieu of the acceptance of the staff recommendations by the CT DEP, I would support no action.
Arthur Rocque, Commissioner
CT Department of Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street
Hartford CT 06106
Dear Commissioner Roque; I am writing to express my support for the Federal Energy Regulatory CommissionÂs Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The DEIS with staff recommendations represents a balanced and fair approach to the relicensing of the Housatonic River hydroelectric generating facilities. I urge the DEP to accept the staff recommendations and modify the 401 Water Quality Certification document to meet these recommendations.
Bulls Bridge is usually running anytime the river levels are listed at 1400 cfs or above. The power station uses about 1000 cfs, so that would be 400 cfs. Pretty low and technical but fun. At this level we usually hike back a mile on the Appalachian trail on river right after the gorge because the river widens and gets very scratchy. When the gauge says 2000 cfs Bulls will be a blast. The top rapid, known as staircase or (stairway to the locals) is more of a class V than a IV. Its steep and technical with some mean holes at high water and lotds of big potholes in the bedrock. Scout it out! If in doubt of the level or the power plant status you can call the local Outfitter and Kayak Shop, Clarke Outdoors at 860-672-6365.
The map is incorrect, and does not match the description of the take-out (the described take-out is south of the put-in).
Scott Barnes: "The gage is after another river, and after the power plant discharge." So the gage isn't totally reliable. There's a painted gage ("Flintstone gage") at the putin; that's the one that the locals use.
The minimum level ("stage") on the USGS gage is about 4 feet.
Compliments of Mark Rollins: For a correlation between the USGS and Flintstone gauges try the following formula:
Boater's Gauge = 5/3(Gaylordsville Gauge - 4') + 1'
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Two Holes above Flume
The Flume @ 2 on the BG
Bulls Bridge - Staircase
Bulls Bridge - George's Hole
Bulls Bridge Reach of Housatonic,CT
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Denny Alsop, a 69-year old canoeist plans to repeat 1988 journey across Massachusetts to raise awareness for the importance of clean water in the northeast.
A hardy group of northeast boaters climbed into the natural river channel below a hydropower dam to participate in a flow study designed to assess whether whitewater flows should be restored to this dewatered river reach on the Connecticut River. While significant obstacles remain, this site has the potential for providing instruction, playboating, and a big water feature that that could be run throughout much of the year and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!