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Too many swimmers?

Towns, river group look at new measures to manage surge of visitors, traffic

The swimming holes along the 12.9-mile Rock River that slices down between Newfane and Dummerston toward the West River may be getting a little too popular.

On some weekends, cars may be seen parked on both sides of Route 30, just below Depot Road, as many as 300 of them on any sunny summer weekend day.

The south side of the river is generally swimmer-friendly with a variety of beaches. The north side, which is semi-residential, is lined with ledges rife with jumpers and leapers.

The Dummerston Selectboard recently sent a letter to the state Agency of Transportation asking for some changes on that crowded stretch of road.

The town’s requests include a reduction in the speed limit from 50 m.p.h. to 35 m.p.h. on a stretch of the road, new restrictions that would limit parking to just one side of the road, and a yellow blinking light at the top of Newfane Hill to warn drivers of the hazards below, such as pedestrians ambling across Route 30.

Meanwhile, others have voiced concerns about the spot known as Indian Love Call, farther up the Rock River, in Newfane.

Cris and Wayne White own property and a house overlooking Indian Love Call. The Whites have deep roots in Vermont, growing up in Williamsville and Newfane, respectively. Wayne White, the original WW in WW Building Supplies in Newfane, sold the store some years ago.

Cris White called Indian Love Call a lovely spot whose utilitarian beauty she wants to preserve, and she has recently begun agitating for some action, mainly related to sanitation and safety.

The board of directors of the Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance (SEVWA) recently called a meeting in Newfane,in part,  to discuss the various Rock River issues.

White said she finds herself in that classic activist dilemma, wishing to improve conditions along the river, now more popular than ever, yet realizing that improvements tend to draw more visitors. But she believes mutual respect is the answer.

She says the noise at night is certainly an issue, “but I like it. It’s local young people having fun.”

White said she has been doing her own monitoring of the river and is looking forward to turning that task over to SEVWA Coordinator Laurie Callahan, who  said she was amenable to that suggestion.

Thom Chiofalo, of Rowe, Mass., has been coming to the swimming holes for many years. He is the president of Rock River Preservation, Inc., a five-year-old nonprofit organization devoted to keep things clean, safe, and happy along the river, as well as along Route 30.

The preservation group owns four acres along the river and works in conjunction with the Vermont Land Trust.

At the meeting, Chiofalo said the traffic plans outlined in the Dummerston letter are based on what works at Quechee Gorge, a much busier site off Route 4, east of Woodstock.

He discussed his commitment to giving peace a chance on the river.

White agreed.

“I feel now that everybody’s on same page,” White said. “Communication is an amazing thing.”

White also speaks strongly of preserving what she calls “the family integrity” of Indian Love Call.

Which brings up the matter of the clothing-optional swimming sites and the gay beaches that, according to Chiofolo, include most of the other swimming holes.

He said the site just up the river from Indian Love Call is also a clothing-optional site, but remains a family beach. Sites three, four, and five, he says, are well known as gay beaches, the third welcoming gay men and lesbians, the fourth and fifth customarily used only by men.

White said that she has no quarrel with the use of those beaches but is principally concerned with their sanitation.

Chiofolo agreed that sanitation is a prominent concern and pointed to a kiosk that Rock River Preservation built up the trail.

The kiosk lists in detail what users need to do to maintain these river sites while respecting one+ another’s rights.

“We users are all the caretakers of this special place,” the information points out. “To [ensure] that the environment remains healthy, everyone’s rights are respected, and all may enjoy the tranquil beauty of this special place.”

The matter of toilets was discussed but led to no solutions. Both White and Chiofalo concede that human and animal feces were an issue.

Chiofalo said it takes time for people to get used to new guidelines and believes that once they are better known, the problems will begin to abate.

Both residents and users should, he said, have faith in the “learning curve.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #110 (Wednesday, July 20, 2011).

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