WILLIAMSTOWN -- They say you can't step in the same river twice. But you can bike along it for as long as you want, as long as the river flows.
The Hoosic River Ride will set off on Saturday, cruising into its ninth year of benefiting the Hoosic River Watershed Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the Hoosic River watershed. Bikers can choose from five rides, each beginning at half-hour intervals. The bikers ride to enjoy the river, not to finish first.
Executive Director Steve Mc Mahon is part of a 3-person HooRWA ride committee that plans the routes, each designed to take riders on a scenic tour of the area that the Hoosic River and its watershed touches. There's a 7-mile ride geared toward families. Other rides are 30, 50, 75 and, finally, 100 miles.
McMahon and two others form a committee that makes sure each route is a veritable showcase of the area's beauty.
"We keep modifying them," he said.
The Hoosic river watershed stretches though the Berkshire Hills, the Green Mountains and the Taconic Mountains. The river is 70 miles long.
For every bicyclist, the ride begins and ends at the Williamstown Youth Center. There are first aid and water stations along every route and a celebratory picnic at the end.
It's a ride to enjoy the river, but it's also a ride to raise money to heal the river. Stephen Pagnotta remembers when, decades ago, leather tanning at the Blackinton Mill in North Adams left the river in Williamstown murky and dark.
Pagnotta is an attorney at Don ovan & O'Connor. The law firm, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is the primary sponsor of the event. Pagnotta will bike the 100-mile loop.
It's a matter of serving the community for the partners at Donovan & O'Connor.
"It's really our commitment to the watershed area," said attorney Steve Narey; many members of the firm have local roots, and they've always had an office near the Hoosic.
Four partners with the firm will partake in the ride, joining a diverse crowd with people coming from as far as Moscow and as close as Williamstown. Every year, 100 to 200 people participate.
"My feeling is, it's good exercise, and it's a fun thing," said Donovan & O'Connor aenior associate Buffy Lord.
Funds raised by the bike ride contribute to Hoorwa's endeavors in the watershed.
When HooRWA was founded in 1986, charter member Lauren Stevens said he hoped the Hoosic would eventually be included in the states list of scenic rivers, which makes the river eligible for certain state funds and protection. Con gress designates which rivers are added to the list through authorizing a study and reviewing the river's "outstandingly remarkable value," according to the bill.
The river is classified as a B class river, which is the goal for rivers in the state, but it is also on the state list of "impaired" rivers.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 has made vast progress in terms of reducing pollution in the river, but the needed funding is not always all available, according to HooRWA's website.
Hoorwa has, however, received assistance from the National Park Service, various community grants and, mainly, from individual donors.
The Hoosic River, theoretically, is a prime spot for swimming and fishing. "Some of the best fishing in the Northeast is in the Hoosic River," Stevens said.
But the river has a fishing advisory downstream of North Adams because of biological contamination. Stevens said the river is safe to swim in, but warns: "You probably shouldn't drink the water."
There has long been concern among environmentalists regarding the water quality of this particular river, especially considering its economic, as well as aesthetic, value. According to the Adams Historical Society, Adams Selectmen in the 1890s warned citizens against throwing garbage off a bridge.
Now, a major concern for Stevens and the rest of HooRWA is to maintain the presence of trout, which indicates that the river is the right temperature and has the right balances in the water.
"You've got polar bears in the Arctic and trout in the Hoosic," Stevens said.
He wants to "delay and litigate" the loss of coldwater species in the river.
So the bike ride is not only fun, it's the perfect way to showcase the beauty of the watershed and to encourage people to keep it healthy.
"In the midst of climate change, rivers are critical," McMahon said. If you go ...
What: Hoosic River Ride, five possible group bike rides, ranging from 7 miles to 100, rambling along back roads by the Hoosic River
When: Saturday. Post-ride picnic 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Headquartered at the Williamstown Youth Center on School Street
Admission: Depends on the type of ride; check the website for information.