Canoeist 'Denny' Alsop sets off to paddle across Massachusetts once again


Photo Gallery | Canoe for Clean Water Tour

Video | Denny Alsop sets out from Sheffield on a month-long canoe trip across Massachusetts to promote clean water.

Video | Denny Alsop of the Housatonic River Initiative discusses his canoe trip across Massachusetts.

SHEFFIELD — With a whisper of snow dusting the banks and a brisk chill in the air, Dennis "Denny" Alsop launched his canoe into the Housatonic River on Monday morning as he had exactly 28 years ago on the first day of spring.

The 69-year-old paddler's mission now, as then, is the same: Raise awareness of the beauty of rivers traversing the state and draw attention to clean them up and keep them so.

A conservationist, environmentalist and grandfather from Stockbridge, Alsop reflected on the treks and the 28-year span between them ahead of setting off down the river. His canoe trip — with portages — will go from Sheffield to Boston.

"To go back over the same route, starting on the exact same day a generation later, is pretty cool," he said.

Twenty-eight years ago, Alsop was concerned with calling attention to the need to step up efforts to keep Massachusetts' rivers clean. This time around, he said, he expects to see the progress that the state and a host of nonprofit organizations have made in cleaning these waterways.

"I'll get to see the riverbank from the river, not the shoreline," Alsop said. "I think that point of view is where you can see real progress. A lot of these rivers go through communities, but you don't really see them.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the great work done on the Riverwalk" in Great Barrington," he said. "When I get up to Pittsfield, I'm looking forward to seeing the first two miles downstream from GE, the stretch they've worked on. "

That two-mile stretch of the Housatonic through Pittsfield came as the result of work to rid it of PCBs left from a former General Electric facility in Pittsfield.

Left unsaid is the cleanup of the rest of the river from that point 10 miles downstream into Lenox, a bone of contention between GE and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Alsop takes a positive point of view on the matter.

"The part of the river that's been remediated by the EPA shows what we can do," he said. "Let's emphasize that when I paddled to Boston 28 years ago, I didn't mention [polychlorinated biphenyls] even once."

The rivers on which Alsop will paddle, along with the Housatonic River, will be the Westfield, Connecticut, Chicopee, Quaboag, Qinnebaug, French, Blackstone, Assabet, Sudbury and Charles.

The rivers are not contiguous. Alsop's plan is to portage, or carry his canoe from one river to the next.

"My one concession to age is a small set of wheels," he said with a laugh. "At 41, I could carry [the canoe]. At 69, not so much."

The wheels are on a rack on which the canoe will be set.

The first trip took him 33 days to complete; he expect this one to be about 30 days.

The time line for the trip is a bit loose, as it was 28 years ago, said Alsop. Bad weather could slow the trip down. Rain, for example, could raise the level of the river and make paddling harder.

But that is a side matter.

"I'm excited," he said before the trip. "I'm ready to do this."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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