Northampton to discuss swimming holes at public forum Monday

  • People come from all over to swim in the Mill River in Leeds. Some residents complain about the noise and garbage left behind. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Agnell Morales and Jasani Rosario jump off the Orange Dam in Leeds while friends watch Monday afternoon, July 6, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2020 9:33:39 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Police received 55 calls to the area around the Orange Dam on the Mill River this past May, June and July. On hot days, many come to swim in the river near the dam, where some neighbors have complained of noise and trash. Some of the land around the dam is private and some is of unknown ownership.

It is one of several unofficial river swimming areas in the city that will be discussed at a public forum scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. on Zoom and hosted by the city’s Planning and Sustainability Department.

“There has been a lot of community conversation about conflicts in swimming areas,” said Wayne Feiden, director of the Planning and Sustainability Department. “Swimming holes all over the city have gotten a lot more use.”

The goal of the forum is not to talk about immediate changes, but instead to think about longer-term plans, Feiden said.

“This has nothing to do with 2020, 2021, or probably 2022,” he said. “This is really beginning to open the conversation … It’s really to get feedback for the longer term.”

Swimming has increased at sites on the Mill River such as Cook’s Dam, Orange Dam and the dam near Pine Street in Florence. More swimmers also have been coming to the Connecticut River Greenway Park, according to a preliminary assessment the Planning and Sustainability office completed this summer. The sites are heavily used, but also abused, the report says.

“Sites are being loved to death, with trash, human waste, noise, and traffic problems,” the assessment reads. The city has limited resources for new recreation areas, the report states, and “because recreation users are disproportionately populations of color, enforcement actions would disproportionately affect populations of color.”

One way to move forward is to “make the pie bigger” and increase access to swimming spots, Feiden said. “But making the pie bigger means costs,” he said. Even if the city got grant money for capital costs, “if we have a new facility we have to maintain the facility.”

Other solutions floated in the preliminary assessment include a part-time river steward to manage spots, or parking fees to cover management costs. The department recently applied for Community Preservation Act funding to do a more detailed analysis of the issue, according to Feiden.

The Zoom public forum can be joined on Monday at 7 p.m. at the following link:

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