Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Help needed

I finally got up the courage to visit the Ledges last Sunday.  It was a sad day.

TransCanada had repaired the roadway in, but the gate was locked.  There was a sign stating that the health department had ruled the lake off-limits for swimming on 9/23/2011, but the lake had apparently been opened for boating earlier that week for the first time since the hurricane.

The lake level had been lowered dramatically since Irene went through, and I wondered why.  I didn't have to wonder for long, though.  Apparently a great deal of flotsam and jetsam had washed down the Deerfield River into Lake Whitingham, and until the lake level was lowered was floating on the surface, making navigation very hazardous.  Tires, washing machines, furniture, the walls of small buildings, and propane tanks were all suspended in the water.  But now that the water level is finally down, it is possible to begin the cleanup.

And what a cleanup it's going to need.  While the stony ledges themselves didn't suffer too badly, the cove that makes up the sandy part of the Ledges beach area is a natural locus for collecting floating stuff from all over the lake, and it is literally buried in 2-3 feet of logs, trash, sticks, and other refuse.  This can, in general, be separated into two categories: that which is reasonable to burn (mainly wood), and that which must be hauled out.  We've made arrangements to take out the transportable stuff that needs to be removed by boat, starting next weekend (the 31st), weather permitting.  We also started a large fire on Sunday and began the process of burning the wooden refuse.  That's going take a lot longer than a weekend or two, although maybe if more people show up it will go faster.  There is a deadline: over the winter, the water level will rise again, and refloat what we haven't cleaned up.

Since the gate remains locked, the only parking is along the swimming area roadway, which has a very limited capacity.  Since the work is difficult/tiring anyway, and since swimming is unsafe, a dozen people at a time seems the ideal number.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not an auspicious end to the summer

I visited southern Vermont over Labor Day weekend.  The damage caused by Irene was extensive to roads and infrastructure, and not a few private businesses and dwellings as well.  Pretty much everything that was in a river valley had some degree of damage.  But it was all due to water - hardly any wind was seen.

As far as The Ledges are concerned, this is how it stands.  First, the State of Vermont has closed all bodies of water affected by the flooding until further notice.  That means that, even if you should find a way into The Ledges, you will find signs and maybe even people telling you to go away.  Second, Rt. 9 from Brattleboro and from Bennington is closed indefinitely.  Miles-long stretches of this highway was washed away by the Irene-induced torrents.  Rt. 112 from Colrain is open, but only one lane exists at the moment, and there's a part of it that is missing just south of Jacksonville.  I also wouldn't be surprised if the road into the recreation area was also completely washed out - and I have no doubt that repairing it will be low priority.

In summary, I'd only attempt this in September if I had other business in the area.  I think it's going to be next season before things are back to any kind of semblance of "normal".

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene and Labor Day

As many may have heard, Hurricane Irene struck southern Vermont especially hard, with more than 11 inches of rainfall in some places.  There was immense damage across southern Vermont and adjacent New York and western Massachusetts.  The Deerfield River, which flows through Lake Whitingham (where the Ledges is) was one of the rivers which flooded badly, causing a great deal of damage to downtown Wilmington.  I am planning to assess the situation myself starting tomorrow.

I've done some calling around in preparation, and this is what I've learned.  First, downtown Wilmington remains closed while the authorities decide which buildings need to be torn down and which can be repaired.  This means that there is no ability to pass through Wilmington via Rt. 9 from the west.  It is not certain when that road will reopen, since there is damage also along the road outside of town (as I understand it).
Second, the eastern half of Wilmington is accessible.  That includes the Shaw's grocery store, the drug store, and gas stations.  But there are some caveats.  Rt. 9 between Brattleboro and Marlboro is closed indefinitely, so any thoughts you might have of reaching Wilmington that way should be abandoned.  Rt. 100 south is open, as is most of Rt. 112 (which goes to Colrain MA).  However, you cannot pass through Jacksonville VT (where Rt. 112 meets Rt. 100) because Rt. 112 is washed out at that point.  There are ways around that problem, but the directions are non-trivial and more than I can post here.  Interstate 91 in Deerfield is also closed due to the Deerfield River undermining the bridge that crosses it.

In short, it's going to be a while before people can get to the Ledges again.  And even if you could get there this weekend, I would advise people not to swim, because all of the flotsam and jetsam from Wilmington all washed into the lake.  The water levels are also likely to be extremely high.

I will update this blog based on what I find this weekend.