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Sunset on the river

Norm Sims Tribute from Rick Hudson

By Amanda Major

Norm Sims Tribute

This August, we celebrated our cherished Deerfield River paddling community during the annual American Whitewater Deerfield River Festival held at Berkshire East Mountain Resort. During the Festival, Rick Hudson gave a poignant and moving tribute to Norm Sims, a beloved, influential, and passionate Deerfield River community member. Norm Sims passed away this year, but his impact on the Deerfield River paddling community is enduring through continued community advocacy and activism in support of rivers and stewardship.

Norm Sims tribute from Rick Hudson

Who here has run Tunnel Vision on the West Branch?

Who here has run High Anxiety on the Cold?

Who has run Dragon’s Tooth?

Well, you have all run drops Norm Sims pioneered and named. Norm Sims was a man of words, a Professor of Journalism at UMass. When we were negotiating for Monroe Bridge and Fife releases we chose a strategy of trading off Harriman bypass releases for Monroe Bridge and Fife releases. It made sense; the water at Harriman was very valuable to the Power Company but none of us had paddled or even walked the Harriman bypass.  To get releases the bypass needed to be sold as a mystical and valuable paddling resource. But how? Norm, our man of words, said let’s rename it the Harriman Gorge. Nobody’s been there but a Gorge is clearly worth more than a bypass.

For endless negotiating sessions we talked about the rebranded Harriman Gorge and its valuable recreational resources. Meanwhile, the power company kept calling it the Harriman bypass because that is how they viewed it, something to bypass to get to a valuable business resource. One day we drove up to White River Junction for another negotiating session. It was one of those awful 26-degree winter days with an approaching storm. The meetings were professional with both sides focused on finding a solution we could present to FERC and avoid the pitfalls and uncertainty of litigation. Norm led team private boaters, and our allies, team rafters, sat next to us. Across the table sat team Power Company and John Ragonese. We had been to many of these meetings and each time we would make incremental progress. And then on that cold gray day it happened, John Raganese from the Power Company called the bypass the Harriman Gorge. We had won a battle with a word. The word gorge had changed the perception of white water resources on the Deerfield. Eye glances were shot between Norm and myself as we carried on as if nothing had changed. Next thing I know we were standing in the parking lot being pelted by sleet, laughing, and proclaiming victory. We now knew the path to our releases, Norm had used words to change perception. After that things moved quickly. Norm, working with Ken Kimball, pulled in AMC resources and joined the AMC board of directors. Norm worked closely with Tom Christopher, who had joined the AW board and through FLOW pulled in other regional and national groups in. Besides boating AMC got conservation easements, American Rivers joined us, we got Governor Weld to come out for a raft trip, and even the national park service showed up to get some credit.

To a great extent this was due to FLOW’s philosophy “You could get whatever you want as long as you are willing to give someone else credit for it.” Norm forged these groups together by letting them take credit. But  today, on this stage, after his passing, we salute and give Norm Sims the credit he deserves in getting our releases, and for all he has done for Deerfield paddlers.

A couple of years ago I got to spend a couple of weeks in the Grand Canyon with Norm, and he was particularly proud of the work he did on the Deerfield and  that on any weekend the Deerfield fills with smiles and people enjoying what he enjoyed, boating with friends. On the last day in the canyon we ran a newly created drop, a long curved bend with a nice wave train. At the bottom Norm turned and indicated that was probably the last class 3 we would run together. I demurred but it turned out it was. In a way he was letting me know that every time we run a river, treat the day as if it was the last time you will run this river.  

Anyway, let’s end this with applause for Norm. 

Thank you,

Rick Hudson


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