Irene Follow-up: Damage on the Deerfield

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Hurricane Irene rocked the Deerfield river valley with historic flooding when it passed over the Northeast at tropical storm force. Local businesses are continuing to recover from the damage as boaters size up new challenges on and off the river.

On the afternoon of August 28, with 6.5 inches of rainfall accumulating in Charlemont, the Deerfield river exceeded the range of its gauge. Jesse Porter-Henry, Athletic Director at the local Academy school, reported that the river “was at about 100,000 CFS when it normally runs at 800.” The impact of this flooding was extensive. “The roads are a mess and a lot of people lost homes or suffered damage,” Jesse reports. “Farmers got hit pretty hard because a lot of crops were up for harvest and then destroyed.”

River businesses took a hit as well. Zoar Outdoor, host of the annual Deerfield River Festival, suffered flooding that overwhelmed their raft barn and crossed route 2 to threaten the main complex. Janet Burnett Cowie, director of kayak instruction at Zoar, surveyed the damage. “The barn – the building and its contents – are gone. We also lost a van and a pickup truck, but what’s really hard is that all the raft guides’ personal gear was in the barn and that’s gone.” Much of what was washed downstream has accumulated in large debris piles well above the normal level of the river, and some has since been recovered. “Many of the townspeople found gear and have been calling us. The generosity of the community has been really great.” Janet cites the return of the gear and a prompt NRS order with keeping operations running. “We’re still in business, and everything is open. The zip line canopy tours never closed, and we’ve been running raft trips since Friday.”

The riverbed was altered as well over the course of the flooding. Look out for changes on the dryway, with the potential for shifted steel and rebar in the upper sections of the river, and larger features in Dragon’s Tooth and below. Local boaters report slight differences on the fife brook section, including a new park and play wave at Hangover Helper. The fife can be run normally, with shuttle access via River road from Charlemont, which is being repaired but remains open. This road is closed for a short section between the dryway put-in and take-out due to a gap in the road. Local boaters advise takingZoar road to the right just before the railroad underpass on River road, following along pelham brook north to the town of Rowe. In Rowe, Hazleton Road on the left leads to Monroe hill road on the right, which will bring paddlers to the Monroe bridge put in.

Sam Weiss

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