New steps improve river access in Woodsville

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-12-2023 10:40 AM

WOODSVILLE — Slipping a canoe or dipping a toe into the Connecticut River got easier in Woodsville last week. To make the river more accessible, the village hauled slabs of granite to build steps leading into the water by the fields of the Woodsville Sports Complex.

There had long been an informal access point at the spot, but decades of foot traffic and the constant grating of the river’s current against the shoreline had made the going increasingly rough. Parking is available at the fields, at 28 Connecticut St.

“It was just roots and some rocks, nothing formal,” said Kevin Shelton, Woodsville’s village administrator. “And even that was quite eroded.”

The effort was realized with funding from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, which is managed by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The fund was established as part of the settlement agreement in the federal process of awarding a new operating license for three hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River at Fifteen Mile Falls near Littleton, N.H. and Ryegate, Vt.

Construction was led by a team from Northeastern Forest Canoe Trail, or NFCT, a Waitsfield, Vt.-based nonprofit that works to protect and enhance Northeastern waterways.

The steps “are designed to withstand spring high water and winter ice,” the nonprofit wrote in a news release about the project. A set of ten 7-foot-wide slabs of granite now lead into the river.

“It was a pretty inexpensive project because the town provided the granite steps, and did the trucking,” said Noah Pollock, the NFCT’s stewardship director. Overall, the tab came to around $1,000, Pollock said.

The Woodsville road crew helped out, lugging fill stone from Martin’s Quarry in Bradford, Vt., and interns from NFCT arranged the granite.

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“I think it’s fortified for well into the next century,” Shelton said.

The steps will lend a hand to the spring Paddle the Border event, sponsored by the Upper Valley Land Trust. On May 26, participants will paddle from Woodsville to the Bedell Bridge State Park landing in Haverhill. On Oct. 1, the autumnal iteration of the paddle, will head out from the Newbury Boat Launch beside the Newbury-Haverhill Bridge, and end at the Bugbee landing in Bradford, Vt. 

The steps are “truly grand,” when you approach them from the water, he said, taking a moment to reflect on the fact that when he was growing up in the area in the 1970s, the Connecticut wasn’t considered clean enough to swim in.

“That river has come a long way in my lifetime,” Shelton said.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION: The Paddle the Border event is scheduled for Oct. 1. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the event. Additionally, the new Woodsville steps that serve as an access point to the Connecticut River will be used in the spring iteration of Paddle the Border, when participants paddle from Woodsville to the Bedell Bridge State Park landing in Haverhill. The previous version of this story incorrectly stated the steps’ use in the fall event.