How do you get to be flashy? If you’re a human being, I can’t help you. But if you’re a river, I’m learning how it’s done and might be able to pass it on.
A few weeks ago I mentioned in this column that the Hoosic River Watershed Association (HooRWA) wanted to see how many boats it could get on the river on the following Saturday. Well, that Friday night an inch of rain fell -- in Williamstown. I don’t know how much, say, on the summit of Mount Greylock.
U.S. Geological Survey maintains several stream flow gauges (spelled "gages" for some reason) on the river, including one near the Williamstown-North Adams line (USGS 01332500). Friday afternoon that gage showed about 240 cubic feet per second, minimal for boating.
I heard hard rain during the night, so sprang to the Internet to check the flow at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, just as the rain was letting up: 800 cfs. Maybe a little high for novices, but I figured if the flow was decreasing, it could be suitable by the time we got on the water at around 10 a.m.
I needed to make the decision by 7:30, though, so I checked the flow again then: over 1,200 cfs. Whoa. Wrong direction. Later that morning it topped out at 1,340 cfs, piddling compared to the 12,900 cfs of Tropical Storm Irene at the same gage, end of August 2011, but a record for the date.
I canceled. It might have been a fun day for kayakers, but not for group of boaters whose skills were unknown. So, an inch more or less, spread from the ridges down through a watershed, can pile up. And there can be a few hours delay before that water collects and passes a specific point. Good to have a real-time demonstration of how the system works. Flashy rivers respond rapidly to precipitation or the absence thereof.
Here’s another demo. Some 30 boats and 50 people had signed up for the cruise. What a sight to behold that would have been! I doubt if on any previous occasion, maybe even going back to the days of the Indians, there would have been such a turn out on the river.
Normally I only see a few boaters on the Hoosic: a guy in a rubber raft guiding fishermen, a few kayaks and few canoes, some tubes occasionally. More often I see people with boats on the tops of their automobiles heading away from the Hoosic. Maybe people are nervous about the rapids or maybe they remember when the river was dirtier.
In any case, the nonevent made a statement about the recreational potential of this river. Offer, as HooRWA did, shuttle service and the security of going in a group, and they will come. Far more than anticipated. That was a revelation. And good for the river, because the more people who are interested in using it, the more people who will care for it.
A lesson learned without any injuries or dinged boats is an inexpensive lesson indeed. There is a great, pent-up desire to boat on the Hoosic. HooRWA is likely to offer bring-your-own-boat trips again, but not 30 at a time. Rather, limited to a manageable number.
At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.