Whitewater enthusiasts now have the right to paddle through Ausable Chasm, but they better be sure to obey the letter of the law.
Ausable Chasm Co. called the state police on Friday—the first day the run was open—to complain that kayakers were trespassing.
State Police Captain Brent Gillam said troopers filed criminal summonses against three paddlers, but the decision on whether to bring charges is in the hands of the town court.
One of the paddlers said on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board that he and two companions had entered private land after encountering a rope on the river.
“We were used to ropes meaning some type of warning down river,” the kayaker said. “We ventured onto private land. We asked the first staff member we saw, and went back. We were stopped by a cop when we were back in the water. After discussion and some waiting we were given violations.”
American Whitewater (AW) is trying to find an attorney to fight the tickets.
AW and Ausable Chasm Co., which runs a tourist facility at the gorge, offer different interpretations of the paddlers’ actions.
Kevin Colburn, AW’s national stewardship director, said they were confused by the rope and walked up an access road to scout the river.
But Tim Bresett, Ausable Chasm’s general manager, contends the paddlers were taking a short cut across the company’s land. “They were a half-mile from the river,” he said. “They were not scouting.”
Bresett said another paddler was ticketed Saturday for stepping out of his kayak to take photos, but Captain Gillam again said troopers only filed a criminal summons with the local court. Gillam said officers cannot charge somone on the spot with a violation (a low-level crime) unless they witnessed the incident.
Colburn suggested that the company is trying to intimidate paddlers from using the river. He said employees were yelling at kayakers who paddled down the river Friday and over the weekend.
“They don’t like the public floating through their river,” he said.
Bresett, however, said the company acknowledges that the public has the right to paddle through the chasm and scout rapids. “It’s not our position to play hardball with these guys,” he said, “but you got to play by the rules.”
After years of negotiation with New York State Electric and Gas, Ausable Chasm, and American Whitewater, the federal government ordered this stretch of river open to the public. Paddlers put in near the power plant at Rainbow Falls, negotiate heavy whitewater (up to Class 5), continue through milder rapids and flatwater, and take out at a bridge on Route 9.
Bresett said many of the kayakers who ventured down the chasm on Friday and over the weekend were “unskilled and unprepared.”
“I guarantee somebody will die on the river this year,” Bresett said.
Under the federal agreement, the river will be open each year from Memorial Day weekend until October 31.