×

Closure of access ramp at Stillwater Bridge frustrates boaters, fishermen

  • Greenfield resident Paul Luippold pulls his canoe down to the Deerfield River not far from Stillwater Bridge Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Greenfield resident Paul Luippold pulls his canoe down to the Deerfield River not far from Stillwater Bridge Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Greenfield resident Paul Luippold pulls his canoe down to the Deerfield River not far from Stillwater Bridge Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Greenfield resident Paul Luippold pulls his canoe down to the Deerfield River not far from Stillwater Bridge Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Greenfield resident Paul Luippold pulls his canoe down to the Deerfield River not far from Stillwater Bridge Wednesday, May 17. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



For the Bulletin
Thursday, June 01, 2017

DEERFIELD — A long-used Deerfield River “natural bank” access ramp at Stillwater Bridge — closed to public vehicles last fall because of safety concerns by the owner — is a point of contention for some local boaters this spring.

“I used to be able to drive right down. I did it for 40 years. I’m 71. I’ve been coming here all my life,” said Greenfield resident Paul Luippold, while loading his canoe with fishing equipment May 24.

The access ramp is on state-owned land, and the gate was paid for by the town with the state’s knowledge.

Luippold has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease that makes breathing difficult. Thus, wheeling the canoe more than 100 feet from the Stillwater Road parking area down the path to the water’s edge is strenuous.

“This is a slap in the face to the many anglers, campers, sportsmen and sportswomen who have used this beautiful section of the river in the past, but now face the risk of injury by dragging their canoe or kayak hundreds of feet to the river on a very steep incline,” Luippold wrote in an email sent to state Rep. Paul Mark.

More than that, Luippold said the gate is, in itself, a public safety hazard: “I see a bunch of seniors up here fishing, and it was a convenience for them to drive right down.”

A safety hazard

Restricting access, at least in part, was influenced by a driver who rolled his truck off the ramp into an inlet last August. The incident was the latest of many that have eroded the bank over time.

“The river banks are eroding every day. It has become a real threat to our road. We are literally one event away from Stillwater Road falling into the river,” Select Board Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness wrote in an email to state Rep. Steve Kulik’s office last month. “We have no choice but to restrict accessibility more to protect our infrastructure.”

Later, after last week’s Select Board meeting, Ness said the ramp is “just a natural river bank, which has over the years had a lot of traffic. It’s been worn down by the sheer volume of people.”

In addition to adding the gate to cut down on traffic, work included shoring up the bank “so our responders have an entrance into the river. We just could not seem to keep cars off the ramp despite extra police patrols, even so far as assigning an officer to be there at peak times. There were always a few that parked, blocking access when minutes count.”

Looking ahead, Ness warned that the town could be on the hook again — potentially for a lot more — to clean up the river and repair infrastructure.

“Over the course of my career, there have been many tragedies and successful rescues launched from the Stillwater Bridge area,” said Deerfield Police Patrolman Adam Sokoloski, who noted that boaters can walk around the gate and launch from the access point, they just can’t drive down the ramp.

“There’s still plenty of parking and river access available to the public. And there’s handicapped accessibility at Barton Cove, that would be an alternative,” Sokoloski continued.

Still, the gate presents a big change for boaters like Luippold, who’ve for decades used the access ramp to get to favorite fishing holes. In past summers, Luippold said he launched from the Stillwater Bridge area a few times every week. His fishing trips this year, however, might not be so frequent.

“A lot of people use it, but I don’t think there will be as many here this year,” Luippold said.

On both sides, the situation isn’t ideal. For boaters, it’s an inconvenience; to the town, it’s a safety hazard that’s never been a sanctioned boat launch.

“A solution would be to fund the development next to Cheapside Bridge on land donated years ago; that was supposed to address the limited access on the Deerfield. The design I saw was to make it handicapped accessible and big enough to handle the sheer number of people that now use the river,” Ness wrote in the email to Kulik.

In years past, the access point was used by out-of-town tubers and guide companies, not just local fishermen and boaters. The bank “was NEVER meant for the volume of traffic that happens from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

Another solution, suggested by Luippold, is to “have the town make some money: pay by permit. You’re going to have responsible people down here taking care of the river.”