Lange: Saving the rivers

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(HOST)  Commentator Willem Lange has been paddling – and thinking about saving – Vermont’s Rivers.

(LANGE) My friend Dan called me,  "Hey!" he said, "We’re going to paddle the White tomorrow, a whole bunch of us.  You want to go?"

Is the Pope Catholic?  

I showed up next morning with my 18-foot Old Town on the rack and a bag lunch in my small pack.  I love the White River: gravel and boulder bar rapids and clear water.  Miles of rapids, and a wonderful drop at West Hartford, where death seems likely, but the river shoots you right through.

Ther river wasn’t clear that day; it was over its banks and the color of café au lait.  It filled its channel and thrashed the alders on both banks.  The day began to look like a wet bobsled ride.  We put in way up near Granville.  My partner and I were the oldest; we took the 18-footer.  We also decided to let others go first.  If they came to grief, we could possibly avoid the same problem.  (You don’t get old by being stupid.)

It got exciting right away.  A standing wave under a bridge threw one canoe sideways and flipped it.  Just beyond it, a couple with a too-small aluminum canoe were up on the bank, wringing water out of their clothes.  And a minute later we watched another pair drift helplessly into an overhanging branch.  In a flash they became two heads floating toward White River Junction.  And to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, they did it again minutes later.

It was a great day or an awful day, depending on your point of view.  At one point my partner sharpened our resolve not to dump by remarking he still had his wallet in his pocket.  Thus, at the takeout miles below, we stepped smugly from our canoe, wetting our toes for the first time.  It’s so easy, when you’ve just been brilliant, to think that’s what you’ll be every time.

The rivers of New England are experiencing a renaissance.  Once polluted by log and pulp drives, paper mills, and raw sewage, they flow cleaner.  But now they’re threatened by overpopulation and development, non-point phosphorus pollution, and agricultural waste.  The good news is they’re no longer friendless.  A quick Google of any river turns up the names of organizations dedicated to their preservation.

The Vermont River Conservancy has taken on the entire state, preserving still-undeveloped land around the rivers, lakes, and wetlands of Vermont.  Saving historic swimming holes is high on its list.  Supported mainly by private contributions, it’s managed to save many beautiful spots and protect them in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which stretches from Old Forge, New York, to Fort Kent, Maine, sees more travelers each year.  Modern plastic boats have become ever cheaper.  It can’t get much better for water lovers.  In May the Ledyard Canoe Club at Dartmouth makes its annual run to the sea, and in June there’s a multi-day group trip down the Winooski.  So much to do, so little time!

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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