Monday, June 13, 2011
Paddling the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers Near Derby
I set out on the season's first kayak foray this morning, intent on exploring the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers where they intersect in Derby, Connecticut.
I put in at the Derby Greenway boat ramp and headed south on the Housatonic, then turned north on the Naugatuck River to see how far upstream I could get. I'd been warned about possibly shallow water and exposed rocks, but I'm guessing it was the recent heavy rains that made that a non-issue until I reached the Bridge Street overpass in Ansonia.
I was hoping to see some interesting urban landscapes, perhaps some old factory buildings hugging the riverbanks. Surprisingly, that wasn't really the case. In fact, the Naugatuck seemed like a very sterile river, cut off from the communities through which it flows.
While the sound of traffic is ever-present, there was little to see of the old manufacturing towns of Ansonia or Derby, mostly because of the high banks covered with rip rap to stabilize the shoreline. This is, after all, the site of the infamous Great Flood of 1955, which devastated these communities and swept away many buildings. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see two white vertical rulers that measure the water's height.
For a while, the Naugatuck runs parallel to a new paved walking trail in Ansonia. The trail, which actually runs along the top of a flood control dike, seems already quite popular, judging from the Monday activity. From a boater's perspective, though, there were little, if any views. The river seemed separate from the town. Perhaps one legacy of the flood was to turn the river into something that must be contained and managed than an integral part of the town. Indeed, I was struck by the fact that none of the homes on the river maintained any kind of river access. Overgrown foliage shrouded a few long-abandoned docks, but it was clear that no one had much use for the river these days. In my two-and-a-half hour sojourn, I saw not a single other vessel, docked or on the water.
I thought I might be able to paddle as far north as Seymour, but after passing under a series of railroad and road traffic bridges, I approached what must've been Bridge Street in Ansonia. I was paddling against the current the whole time, but the going got progressively slower. I could see exposed rocks up ahead. I'd been paddling steadily for about an hour at this point, and feeling a little fatigued and fighting a strong current, I decided to turn back.
Now moving with the current, I returned to my starting point in half the time it took me to approach Bridge Street. I swung right and continued north on the Housatonic, knowing my progress upstream would eventually be halted by the Derby/Shelton dam. Numerous swallows skimmed the water's surface, searching for insects. I startled an extended family of ducks with little ones, and I watched with sympathy as they struggled to clamber over the rip rap rock until I passed.
Looking north on the Housatonic, Shelton side.
The highlight of my trip was spotting a group of seven large shorebirds perched on a weeping willow tree branch protruding from the water. Two of the birds were great blue herons and two others looked to be cormorants. I was surprised the fishing was that good, but then, as if to emphasize the point, my attention was drawn to some splashing about in the water, and then a great blue heron swept into the water and emerged with a small fish in its bill.
I'm still curious to see what's further north on the Naugatuck, but I'll save that for another day.