'Ride the Shetucket' draws paddlers to swift water

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Sprague - posted Wed., Jun. 29, 2011
Avid kayakers enjoy the briefly swift waters of the Shetucket River. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Avid kayakers enjoy the briefly swift waters of the Shetucket River. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

“Just draw and pull your end out,” Jim Barrett told 6-year-old Cody. “Pull hard – that’s right.”

Barrett, of Lebanon, was guiding grandson Cody in the fine art of paddling a canoe. “He’s been on flat water, but he’s not been on a river yet,” Barrett said of his young charge. Also along for the ride was Cody’s brother, Tyler, age 2.

“Look at all the bubbles!” Cody shouted.

“They’re coming from the dam,” explained Barrett.

The trio was part of a goodly crowd of kayak and canoe enthusiasts who plied the Shetucket River June 25 between Scotland Dam and Sprague’s River Park.

The third monthly installment of “Ride the Shetucket” attracted long-time paddlers as well as many who were new to the sport, like Art McDonald of Baltic.

“I like any sport I can do by myself. I don’t like to rely on people showing up,” said the 69-year-old, who was stepping into a kayak for the third time ever. Ironically, though, McDonald was meeting two of his co-workers from Mohegan Sun for a morning of kayaking.

Rick Prentice of Uncasville is also new to the river, and said the sport is fun. “With the cost of everything, this is nice and cheap – nice and relaxing,” he said.

The Shetucket is normally shallow enough to wade in, but Saturday’s event turned it into a paddler’s paradise, thanks to hourly water releases from Scotland Dam. A horn was blown to mark the releases, and many paddlers took their craft upriver to watch the process before enjoying the briefly-swift current that carried them downstream over the 4-mile course.

The town of Sprague offered a free shuttle van that allowed paddlers to drop their boats at the boat launch upriver, drive and park their vehicles at River Park, then catch a ride back to their boats. The arrangement meant that they could simply bring their boats out of the water in Sprague to their waiting vehicles.

“The more we get the river used, the better off it is for everybody,” said Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten, who staffed a sign-in table at the parking lot. She said that participation has increased steadily over this year’s three monthly installments of the event.

Officials plan to repeat the event in July and August depending on water levels over the summer, Osten said. The next ride, slated for July 30, will coincide with the town’s 150th anniversary celebration weekend. She encouraged interested paddlers to check the town’s website, www.ctsprague.org, for updates on future summer and fall rides.

“I’d like to do it in September and October, too,” Osten said. “Coming down the river with full fall foliage would be beautiful.”

The river is plenty beautiful already, according to some of the day’s paddlers.

Brian Civitello, of Bozrah, said he regularly fishes the Shetucket, one of few places in the state stocked for and open to salmon fishing. “It’s a really neat place to fish,” he said. “I see bald eagles here all the time. This is a great opportunity to see the whole river.”

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