The Deerfield River Dryway
The Dryway is one of the great relicensing success stories of New England. Dewatered except for occasional spillage until 1991, the Dryway now has a schedule of 32 days each season when it’s open for boating. Thanks to an agreement reached between the power company and several environmental and recreational groups, intermediate and advanced kayakers, canoeists and whitewater rafters in the Northeast no longer have to travel long distances or wait until spring to get a whitewater fix.
The Monroe Bridge Dryway is one of numerous dewatered sections on rivers throughout the country. To produce hydropower where no single large drop exists in a riverbed, a dam is built to divert water away from the natural riverbed into a canal that descends very gradually to a powerhouse some distance downstream (usually at the base of the whitewater section.) Moving downstream from the dam, the canal becomes higher and higher above the riverbed until it reaches the powerhouse where the water now has significantly more “head” than it had at the dam. Under normal operations, every drop of water is run through the canal and into the powerhouse, emerging in the pond at the bottom having spent its energy turning the turbines to generate electricity. When the water is diverted back into the riverbed, the hydropower operator loses money, but boaters gain valuable recreation.
Put in for the Dryway at the dam in Monroe Bridge or just downstream of the town center where a rough path leads to a lower access. The scenery at the dam is nothing to write home about, with a large decaying factory littering the right bank and the dam just under the bridge. Access is down a steep, loose bank. This access is scheduled to be improved soon by the power company and can only become safer and more convenient.
Directly below the small pool is Factory Rapid, a sharp, debris-laden class III+ that runs out into a fast wave train at the bottom. Beware the debris on river right especially where spikes and sharp metal edges are visible at low water. A quarter mile of class II follows until the river turns left and a longer class III begins with a popular surfing wave two thirds of the way down. Another short pool leads to Split Hair, the first of the more difficult drops. Also known as Governor’s Rapid, this one is class IV at most levels and holds several excellent eddies, inspiring surfing waves, and a somewhat nasty pourover on river left at the bottom. The Split Hair rock is the large one in the center halfway down – go left or right, but decide before you hit the rock.
Below the pool after Split Hair is Judy’s Hole, an easier rapid with a bouncy playhole on the left halfway down. Judy’s leads directly to the next rocky class III which leads into Left Turn, one of the longer, more complex class IVs on the run. The easiest line at Left Turn is on the left where the water is biggest, but there are several possible variations and numerous play waves along the way.
Where the valley widens below Left Turn a popular lunch spot on a large rock on river right provides a good viewing spot for the bottom half of the rapid. Below this, easy water leads to another interesting class III drop. Soon after, Dunbar Brook enters from the right. The gravel bar here is a popular rest spot. From here down the rapids generally become tougher and increase in difficulty until Labyrinth.
Dunbar Brook rapid is narrow and powerful with a very grabby hole at the top in the center. Play waves and eddies abound, but the length of the rapid makes rolling critical at the top. Shortly below Dunbar, Pine Tree, also known as False Tooth, entertains with several more surfing waves, a few steep holes halfway down, and a challenging slot move on the right. Class II follows for another hundred yards to the top of Dragon’s Tooth.
Dragon’s Tooth is intimidating because the water is powerful and a large hole blocks most of the river partway down the rapid. The basic run is from right to left to avoid the hole, then back right again below it. Sounds simple, but the water is zipping along, so you have to make the move with authority and stay upright in the big water. Scout or walk on the left.
There are several excellent kayak play spots below Dragon’s Tooth and a short pool before Labyrinth. Labyrinth is sometimes flooded from below by the Bear Swamp reservoir, but when it’s all there, it’s the longest, most complex, and most interesting rapid on the river.
After a long fast tongue that pushes onto a submerged snaggletooth, a few small ledge drops lead to the Terminator hole where the entire river drops into a large powerful hydraulic over a 4-foot ledge with a nasty boulder sieve below on the left. The right is fairly clear down to the large eddy at the bottom.
At low reservoir levels another rapid appears below Labyrinth. This one has a large boulder in the center and lines on either side of it. Don’t paddle below this rapid. The power company is required by their federal license to limit access to the reservoir since it fluctuates up to forty feet in a day and has an intake that draws 5000 cubic feet of water per second up the mountain at a moment’s notice.
Access to the takeout is via the Dunbar Brook Picnic Area access road. This is also the road that leads to the power plant, so be careful to observe posted no parking areas to keep the power company’s access open. The town of Monroe has complained of boaters speeding through town, so keep it down. The Dryway is too great a run to lose over inconsiderate boater behavior.
Water level information for the Dryway is available through the Deerfield River information phone 888 356-3663. Listen for the spill at the #5 station dam. A schedule of the release dates for the coming year can be obtained from Zoar Outdoor.
These descriptions are excerpted from the Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide by Bruce Lessels which is available in our Outfitters Shop or from AMC Books.