STOCKBRIDGE >> Local boaters can now say goodbye to muddy legs, slips and falls from the old state access site on the Housatonic River at Park Street in Stockbridge, thanks to a new floating dock at the site designed to work with the challenges of the river.
The project was spearheaded by the Housatonic Valley Association, a nonprofit environmental group with offices in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
"We want to increase the visibility and the use of the Housatonic River because we would like the towns to utilize the river as a community resource," said Dennis Regan, Berkshire director of water protection for the HVA.
The dock opened after final work was completed on July 30.
The HVA hopes that the new dock will lead to economic advantages for the town, particularly in areas like rental agencies for canoes and kayaks and river-related events, Regan said.
A platform on the shore connects to a walkway leading to the floating dock in the river. The dock includes a "notch" for watercraft with inclined rollers and handrails to make launching into the water easier, Regan said.
"I've never seen anything like it, and I've been paddling for a long time in many different places," said Charles Murray, Stockbridge resident and avid paddler. The new dock will enable anyone to access the river, allowing more people to utilize it, he said.
Murray volunteers on paddling trips on the river for the HVA. He said the site's deep mud was a challenge to boaters. In the summer when the mud was slick, people slipped and fell all the way down the bank into the river, he said.
Some community members told Regan that the challenges of the previous site prevented them from using the river, he said.
"It was very inaccessible," Murray said. "It was hard for even fit people to carry a boat down [to the water]."
The HVA first considered having steps leading down into the river, or a steep ramp, but both these options would be hindered by the "problem of mud," Regan said.
The plan for the dock was developed as a safe, user-friendly option with low environmental impact, he said.
The floating dock will bypass the mud and rise and fall along with the river's changing water levels, Regan said.
The design plan for the dock by Foresight Land Services was approved by the Stockbridge Conservation Commission, he said. The dock is owned by the town of Stockbridge.
The entire process took three years — one year for the design and permitting phase and two years for installation, he said.
The Community Preservation Committee of the town of Stockbridge provided half of the approximately $40,000 cost of the dock, Regan said. Other sponsors included TD Bank, Berkshire Bank and Canyon Ranch in Lenox, he said.
The HVA's effort to build river access sites began about eight to 10 years ago when HVA members learned about river accessibility issues, Regan said. The organization surveyed the Housatonic River from its headwaters down to the Connecticut state line and found 99 potential access sites. After speaking with community members, the HVA prioritized the sites. Stockbridge was next on the list, Regan said. The organization is in the process of developing three more access sites in other locations, he said.
The HVA will lead a trip of about 20 people from the dock on Aug. 20 for the dock's "official christening," Regan said.