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Concerns about river visitors and the fishing

AMESVILLE — The weekend of Aug. 1 and 2 was quieter along the Housatonic River, as rainy weather on Sunday, Aug. 2, kept most picnickers and day-trippers away.

On Saturday, the Great Falls area in Salisbury/Amesville and Falls Village was quieter than it has been, perhaps in part due to the appearance of new signs announcing “no parking” and the possibility of being towed.

Amesville residents still reported upwards of a dozen cars parked on Housatonic River Road north of Sugar Hill Road.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand said he received complaints about parking, garbage and people using the woods as a bathroom.

Rand expressed, not for the first time, his frustration with the First Light Power Company.

“We would like to meet with First Light and come up with a plan. I don’t want to wait until fall.”

Rand added that “no parking” signs were added last week and more are going up this week.

On the Falls Village side, things were pretty quiet. First Selectman Henry Todd said he drove around Saturday afternoon and saw a few cars parked, but nothing like the previous three weekends.

“It seems like things are calming down,” he said.

Harold MacMillan at Housatonic River Outfitters in Cornwall Bridge said his fishing guides observed several picnickers along the river Saturday, including a large crowd at the Cellar Hole pull-off on Route 7 in Sharon, which has become very popular.

He said he has observed people setting up pop-up tents and lawn chairs in — not next to — the river.

He also has noted people fishing in violation of regulations and actually trying to net heat-stressed trout from the thermal refuge areas, which are off-limits to fishing from June 15 to Sept. 15.

Of the overall increase in river usage, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He said he had sympathy for people trying to escape the hot weather and, after finding other options in the state  closed, making their way to the Housatonic.

But he wasn’t happy about the garbage being left behind.

Lindsay Larson, Conservation Projects Manager at the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA), said in a phone interview that groups of interns have been out on the river on weekends doing outreach and distributing large garbage bags.

She said that the River Information and Outreach program (RIO) program was created in 2018 to respond to the increased use of access sites along the river that are essentially unmanaged or lightly supervised.

This year, as many sites south of the Salisbury-to-Cornwall area have been closed, RIO’s focus has been from the Great Falls south to Cornwall Bridge. This stretch includes the popular Trout Management Area, which in turn contains a fly-fishing only section. 

The interns also collect information on where people are coming from and what activities they pursue at the river.

And they pick up garbage, as does a second group of HVA interns, whose primary focus is on conservation work.

Asked if the interns get any pushback from the visitors, Larson said that people are generally cooperative.

“We want to keep the river clean and safe,” she said.

Larson added that during the fall and winter, HVA, the Housatonic River Commission, state and municipal officials and interested parties (anglers, recreational boaters, private landowners, etc.)  will get together to develop a regional approach to river usage and safety.

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