Saturday, April 19 2014 @ 01:35 PM EDT
Contributed by: Bill Thompson
Save the Saco
by Bill Thompson
It is encouraging that the Conway Selectmen have recently decided to take a serious look at some of the problems confronting the Saco River. Special thanks to the members of Saco Valley Anglers Trout Unlimited who brought the matter to the attention of the Selectmen and started the conversation. The Saco has had a problem with misuse for some time and it has progressively gotten worse over the last few years.
One of my cousins was fond of saying: “There are just too dammed many people in this world”. Turns out he was right. Over the last decade the traffic on the Saco has doubled if not tripled. In the past twelve years that I have written this column I have written no-less than five different columns with titles such as: “The Saco Gets No Respect”, “Problems on the River” and “Deliverance”. The increase in traffic has resulted in more trash, more alcohol consumption and more damage to the river’s ecosystem.
Not only has the boat traffic increased, the use of the two parks at First Bridge have also increased dramatically. There was a time when only a few locals came to swim here, but it is now impossible to find a parking space anywhere along the road at First Bridge on a warm summer day. Campers have also discovered the river, on almost every weekend you find parties of campers along the river; why pay a campground fee when there is free camping on the river? It has come to the point where many landowners are posting their land. It is a real fear among the angling community that we are going to lose access to the river due to these actions. There are only a very few landowners that control the river along the fly fishing only section, if anyone posted their land it could seriously impact access for fishermen and if they all did it would put an end to it. It is ironic that the one group, with the least damaging footprint, would pay the highest price.
I have attended the two meetings that the selectmen have held and it was gratifying that at least two of the canoe rental outfits attended the last. Both of these outfitters were well aware of the problems and were there to help find solutions. The bad news was that there are at least six other companies that rent canoes, kayaks, paddle boards or inflatables that were not in attendance. My guess is that some of these folks feel that they are immune from any responsibility for any negative impact to the river.
At least the conversation has begun and now comes the hard part of finding workable solutions. The simple solution is to limit the traffic on the river. My cousin would see the wisdom in this; however it is not likely that anyone would be happy with this. The Saco has become vital part of our local economy. Just about every business in this town, including mine, derives some economic value from the river.
One of the selectmen has suggested a parking fee at First Bridge. I wonder how that would affect the fishermen. Most of us fish either in the evenings or very early morning. The best fishing is most often at these times, but other times we fish these hours just to avoid the crowds. Would we have to pay to park during these hours? Personally I would like to see a ban on road side parking in the First Bridge area. I am sure this will bring howls of protest from some, but it would relieve the congestion at the bridge area and it would effectively cut down the numbers of people using the area.
Camping has become a problem in the last few years. Where ever a fire ring appears it becomes an open invitation for others to follow. This is a problem that is of concern to landowners. Few campers if any know that a fire permit is required. Camping should be banned.
One thing that has come out of the meetings is a need for education of those using the river. A great many of those paddling the river are first timers and have limited knowledge of what to expect. Every year someone gets caught up in a sweeper resulting to a letter to this paper demanding that the river be cleaned up of all hazards. Many have no idea of how long a trip they have embarked on. Litter is another problem especially at those areas where rope swings have been put up. The rope swing at the Overlook Pool, just up river from First Bridge, has become a dump. Rope swings are a lot of fun, but they attract a lot of folks that just don’t know how to behave.
Saco Valley Anglers have pledged funds to provide instructional manuals to floaters on how to treat the river. I think that this is a good idea, but I have no doubt that I will find these pamphlets along the river washed up with the other trash.
The Saco is only going to become more of a magnet for summer tourists as time goes on. The time has come for serious discussion on how to control what is sure to become an even greater problem down the road.
See you down the river.