Ann Smith, Executive Director, does a wonderful job organizing the trip, which offers 3 meals every day, daily guest speakers, and assistance with boat portage courtesy of the students of St. Michael’s Wilderness Program. The theme of this year’s trip was the flora and fauna of the Winooski Watershed Basin; the speakers revolved around this topic, as well as having a naturalist along on the trip, giving talks, tips, and pointers along the journey.My portion of the trip started on Friday in Richmond, day 4 of the Sojourn; a warm, sunny day. Fortified by a great breakfast prepared by the Beacon Light Grange and a talk about some of the flora and fauna we’d see, we got underway. That part of the river was calm and flowing swiftly due to the rains on the previous days, so we made good time and enjoyed the sunshine and the vistas from the river. We stopped along the river for a talk about the floodplain forests with Karen Bates of the Department of Environmental Conservation, then a bit further down pulled up to shore for lunch. A bald eagle was spotted several times during the day, seemingly guiding us down the river.Later in the afternoon, we reached our destination of the Essex Dam where we were met by the volunteers from St. Mike’s who assisted us with our boats. We then proceeded to our campground to pitch our tents, change clothes, and relax for the evening. Dinner was delicious lasagna, rolls, and salad catered by Hoagies, musical entertainment provided by the President of Friends of the Winooski River, Collin McCaffrey, and lots of lively conversation about current events revolving around the Winooski Watershed Basin and other topics of mutual interest.We turned in early, but I did wake at one point during the night to look out of my tent and see the full moon reflected on the swiftly moving river, a beautiful image I will remember for a long time.Saturday morning dawned cloudy, and after a hot breakfast provided by a fellow paddler, we packed up our tents and had an interesting tour of the Essex Dam. Most of the equipment, and the dam itself, are original from its 1915 construction. During the flood of 1927, the entire building was under water, but within 9 months was cleaned up and working again, now providing power to over 4,000 homes in the vicinity. I was quite apprehensive eyeing the rapids at the beginning of our journey, but bravely, one by one, we all tackled them. The trip was supported by several ‘safety boaters, expert paddlers whose job it was to get us out of whatever situation we got ourselves into, and having witnessed their expertise, I would not have felt comfortable on the water without them. Happily, we all came through the rapids without major incident, other than getting soaked a time or two. There were several areas of turbulence after that, as well as miles of flat water, and a bit of rain. Although our safety-boaters claimed they were only Class 1-2 rapids, I felt like I’d conquered major whitewater! We passed through Lime Kiln Gorge that day, the only major gorge on the Winooski that has not been dammed. It was an amazing sight, and while one can get a view from the overhead bridge, there is no comparison to seeing it from the river.By mid-afternoon, we had reached our take-out at the Winooski Gorge Dam. Having paddled in wet clothes all day after our rapids experience, and the rain, we were all glad to get to our campsite and a dry change of clothes.
Showers were available at the Winooski YMCA, after which some of us explored town, and we all met back for dinner at the O’Brien Community Center for a group-prepared dinner of burritos and a talk by author and photographer Susan Morse on Mammals of the Winooski by author and photographer Susan Morse on Mammals of the Winooski.This paddler then headed for home, while the through-paddlers headed back to camp to complete their journey the next day into Lake Champlain. This was an extraordinary adventure that I could not have done on my own. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to join Friends of the Winooski River to experience the river from a unique perspective. I would highly recommend this to anyone with river paddling experience, but it’s not for divas or beginners: some of the put-ins and take-outs are steep and rocky, there are some rapids, and it goes rain or shine. You must have your own equipment, river paddling ability, a rugged outlook, and a sense of humor. You can join the group for one day, two, or the entire 6 days, and know that any proceeds from this event go to keeping the river that runs through our town clean, safe, and viable for future generations. For more information about the Sojourn or Friends of the Winooski River, go to http://www.winooskiriver.org.