Northfield Mountain visitor center, river cruise reopens after years of challenges

The Northfield Mountain visitor center and river boat cruise is welcoming guests once again after facing years of challenges
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 10:39 AM EDT
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NORTHFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - With school fast approaching and summer quickly wrapping up, it seems like days are numbered to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but there are still some opportunities to do just that even through the fall. A Connecticut River boat cruise is reopening in Franklin County after COVID-19 put it on pause for several seasons then the recent wet weather through the summer months brought some additional challenges.

If you’re looking for an end of summer activity or something to start off your fall, it’s time to head up to Franklin County. The Heritage river boat cruise is open for the first time in three years.

The Northfield Mountain visitor center and river boat cruise is welcoming guests once again after facing years of challenges: from COVID-19 restrictions to a retired boat captain and, most recently, a rainy summer.

“Unfortunately, the river overflows made us shut down the boat for a few weeks because the river wasn’t safe to navigate, but we are pleased that the overflow has subsided. We’re back open,” said Andy Bridges, director of community relations with FirstLight Power.

Bridges said they are excited to reopen their recreational activities as Northfield Mountain offers hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing, even cross-country skiing in the winter, but the boat cruise is a can’t miss.

“I was really excited to see just how passionate and excited people are about this river boat cruise coming back into play. A lot of people are missing it during the COVID seasons, so I’m glad that we are able to open it back up and get people back on board,” said tour interpreter Una McCoole.

McCoole is your tour guide along the seven mile stretch of the Connecticut River and points out the scenic highlights along the route.

“One of my favorite things to talk about is the French King Bridge, which is right behind us right now. The French King Bridge was a pretty remarkable feat for the time it was built. It was built in 1932 and that was while we were in the throes of the Great Depression. It was quite a remarkable opportunity to expand commerce in the area between Gill and Erving,” McCoole added. “Something that I find interesting about it is it only took six months to get this built for $375,000 back in the day.”

While McCoole is keeping visitors entertained, it’s Sam Chafin, the Heritage’s newest captain, steering the ship.

“For myself, just being out in the water every day, there’s nothing better, best job in the world,” Chafin said.

After their longtime captain retired during the pandemic, it took some time to find the perfect fit, but Chafin is already fitting right in.

“The community, I have noticed, has been very excited that we have the boat back now. There have been a lot of people that were pretty disappointed to lose this for those COVID years. We actually have quite a few regulars who like to come onboard and do this almost every week or every other week. This is a really special thing to some of the locals around here,” Chafin added.

Bridges told Western Mass News that Northfield Mountain is not just about the fun it offers for visitors, but it also helps drive up the economy in the area.

“Franklin County is really known for its recreational opportunities and we are glad to be an important part of that, so bringing tourism to the region is a great opportunity for the local businesses and we are glad to support that,” Bridges noted.

The Heritage boat cruises take place Thursday through Sunday every week through Columbus Day weekend. Tickets have to be bought in advance.