Those who follow Deerfield River westward from the Catamount State Forest to the Mohawk Trail State Forest travel through the hilly terrain of historic Charlemont. There, in 1989, the Berkshire Mountains and other geographical spoils caught the eyes of Bruce Lessels and Karen Blom—a medaling member of the US whitewater team and a public health nutritionist looking to make the outdoors more accessible. They built Zoar Outdoor on the river, establishing an 80-acre facility to be a base for ziplining, rock climbing, camping, and solar-powered lodging. Today, a staff of adventurers keeps that base running. They not only sell an arsenal of outdoor gear and continue those establishing activities, but also lead whitewater rafting and kayaking trips down their home river, slicing through the waves and rearranging a slew of fishes' living rooms along the way.
Hornet Marine President David Hartmann got his taste for boat design from his father, Hal, an engineer who helped create the smooth-riding deep-vee hull now included on each Hornet 17 speedboat. Today, the 17-foot seacrafts zip through the water with help from Mercury MerCruiser engines, each carrying up to five passengers perched on custom upholstery. Hornet Marine invites landlubbers on factory tours and test drives at its headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, where a staff of nautical experts also keep ships shipshape with oil changes, detailing, and other boat-maintenance services.
The attendants at Paddleworks equip patrons with paddles and paddleboards and then send them out onto the calm waters of Clinton Harbor. But folks who need a little guidance can rest easy. Before novices begin a paddling session, they can enroll in one of the free 15-minute intro classes that the company holds every day of the week. For people who have their sea legs squarely underneath them, Paddleworks offers a unorthodox events and classes. Clients can jump into anything from SUP yoga lessons and races to bootcamp?a much safer way to turn up the intensity than writing "Come Get It, Sharks" on the bottom of the board. Committed paddlers might also look into purchasing equipment of their own from the shop, which is stocked with gear from brands such as Jimmy Lewis, Dakine, and GoPro.
As the sun begins to dip below the skyline, the Providence River’s surface flares up, tinged with its flickering glow. In the hazy sunset light, a gondola emerges cutting through the still water’s surface, though it’s just as easy to hear as it is to see; as it glides down the river, the boat wafts strains of song from its live accordion accompanist. Led by owner Marcello, La Gondola’s group of gondoliers row with the mission to only furnish passengers with romantic sojourns and to celebrate the riverfront and the city’s Italian ties. Each of his Venice-built gondolas gleams with intricately wrought ornaments and solid brass trim, and at 36 feet, they comfortably hold a gondolier, guests, an accompanying musician, and the occasional hitchhiking tugboat captain. Each gondola trip his company takes gets Marcello’s custom touch, as he tailors every trip to passengers’ desires. “No matter who you are,” he says, “we strive to make you feel like the queen and king of the river.” In agreement with many other residents, Marcello considers Waterplace Park a city hub: “If the park is the heart of the city, the river is the lifeblood,” He says. He hopes the rebirth of the local riverfront parallels a local renaissance for gondoliering as well, which inspired him to plan the inaugural Gondolympics in May.
Crab Apple Whitewater sends adventure seekers on river-bound thrill rides daily from early April through mid-October using inflatable kayaks for Class I–II rapids and larger group rafts for Class II–IV rapids. Crab Apple Whitewater charts routes through the Berkshire Mountains on rivers such as the Deerfield, making use of natural flows and daily dam releases in order to control the challenge for kayakers and rafters of all skill levels. Trips are consistent due to dam control, but vary based on interpretations of fortunes found in the guide’s tea leaves the night before. All adventurers strap on provided helmets and life jackets and attend a safety lecture prior to casting off.