Tim Lewis was paddling in 2016 with a friend on remote northern waters when he made a discovery: the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail Map. The map showed hundreds of access points, about 50 primitive campsites and hundreds of miles of paddling from the Connecticut River’s headwaters in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods, all the way to Long Island Sound along Connecticut’s shoreline. It immediately piqued his interest.
Lewis does a lot of things outdoors, but “paddling is the thing I love the most,” he explains by phone from his home in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, which sits about seven miles south of the capital city of Hartford, and about one mile from a put-in on the Connecticut River. He says paddling is calming, it’s comforting. “There’s just something peaceful about it,” he adds.
The Connecticut River, in particular, he says, has so much to offer. At 410 miles, it’s the longest river in New England — even longer than the Hudson River — and it has something for everyone, from rapids to long stretches of quiet, flat water. So on that day in 2016, Lewis and his friend, being hardy and adventurous paddlers and seasoned downriver canoe racers, planned a two-week trip for the following year that would take them down the entire Connecticut River, averaging 30 miles of paddling each day.
The two friends pulled off the adventure in sections, as a dog bite interrupted their paddle and sent Lewis home, but they completed the full length of the river. Lewis even hiked in to a remote beaver pond in northern New Hampshire with an inflatable raft so he could paddle the northernmost reach of the watershed.
“I didn’t really go that far,” he says, with a chuckle, of the beaver pond paddle, “but I just wanted to say I had done it.”
Lewis’s full story is summarized on the website of the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), an organization that brings together partners across four states to protect the Connecticut River watershed, advocate for and engage communities in activities to prevent pollution, improve habitats and promote enjoyment of the river and its tributaries.
The organization is one of more than 30 organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Vermont River Conservancy, which together manage the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail, the same trail that Lewis discovered on that map back in 2016.
Now, a new smartphone app and waterproof map have been released on March 22, with updated information to help paddlers navigate the Connecticut River, particularly for multi-day adventures. The app is a great way for paddlers to discover the river, and it’s an important part of boosting the recreation economy in the Connecticut River Valley, along the border between Vermont and New Hampshire.
The valley, points out Kathy Urffer, who is a river steward with CRC based in Brattleboro, is a landscape of small, rural communities that are far away from the political and economic centers of each
state. But recreation, like that found along the river, has the potential to increase economic activity in the region, and that is important to the gear shops, guides, lodges, restaurants and more that are all found in the area. As the river trail increasingly brings in locals and tourists to recreate on the river, they spend money on other things, too, like food and gas, for example. The newly released app and map is a way to make it easier for people to come to the Connecticut River Valley for recreation.
But it’s not just the health of the watershed’s economy that matters — a healthy river is important, too. To this point, the release of the new app and updated waterproof map was timed with World Water Day. The global event, organized by the United Nations, has people around the world recognize the importance of water in our lives. In 2021, the theme for the day was, what does water mean to you?
The day is a great opportunity to celebrate a resource we need, but often don’t think about, says Kelsey Wentling, who is a river steward with the CRC, though she is based in Hartford, Connecticut. Rivers, like the Connecticut, play an important role in peoples’ lives. During the pandemic, for example, Wentling says people increasingly turned to waterways for recreation.
“There’s this healing power of water,” she says.
At his home in Rocky Hill, Lewis has noticed more people coming to the river, as well. Even though major roadways such as the Interstate 91 corridor have cut people off from the river in some places, he says, people are finding their way back. One piece of evidence for this he sees is the increasing number of river access parks along the Connecticut River in Connecticut.
As for his own paddling, Lewis goes out on the river all the time. He’s even thinking about paddling the entire river trail again. But in the meantime, the put-in close to home is always there: In the spring, it’s the first place he paddles, and it’s the last place he pulls his boat from in the fall. In part, that’s because it’s so close to his home.
Also, it’s because the river offers so much. He says, “I love the Connecticut River.”
Those interested in downloading the app can find it in CRC’s online store at www.ctriver.org/shop or search “Guthook Guides” in your smartphone app store. Proceeds from the $9.99 app and waterproof printed maps are used to fund trail stewardship projects. The app was developed in partnership with Atlas/Guthook Guides, which offers similar app-based guides for other well-known trails like the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail map is available as an in-app purchase in the Guthook Guides app, a free download from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.