New Housatonic River launch in Great Barrington also sends message for river cleanup

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Standing at the new canoe launch at the Housatonic River are two men working to make the river easier to enjoy so that it can also be saved.

Dennis Regan and Narain Schroeder on Thursday unveiled a parking lot and launch area next to the Division Street Bridge that will make it easier to get onto the river at a stretch that is fairly undisturbed, and teeming with wildlife.

Schroeder, director of land conservation at the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and Regan, Berkshire director at the Housatonic Valley Association, said both organizations have partnered in an effort to turn what is a hard-to-develop slice of land into something the public can use.

"There was an abandoned road here, and we found a bunch of dumps," Schroeder said.

It was also an enormous tangle of invasive species. They cleared the rest of the property of these and will plant native species.

Now, it's a tidy place to park, with or without a boat trailer, and it offers a few good spots to cast a line. One can paddle upstream to the Rising Paper Dam, or head into downtown Great Barrington, navigating a few tricky rapids along the way. Soon, a sign will go up here that will map this out for paddlers.

Schroeder said the council has managed the conservation restriction on the property for about seven years, and asked the solar developer that owns it to pay for the parking lot.

The council paid for a fence and other work, and grant money, as well as local Community Preservation Act funds, helped make it happen.

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All told, the cost to do it was close to $50,000.

But the price is worth it for generations to come, say Regan and Schroeder.

"The river's been hidden because of the PCB scare," Regan said, referring to its contamination with the chemical from outflow at the former General Electric plant in Pittsfield. "The more people come, the more they'll want to protect it."

Schroeder agrees that opening up access points isn't just about recreation.

"We're the generation that has to hold GE responsible," he said, noting the resistance from some quarters to stop a GE dredging cleanup that will disrupt communities along the river. "It's also a continued effort to make that point to get GE to clean it up."

"It's a short-term disruption for long-term gain," Regan said. "We need to do it for our kids."

Regan, who is retiring at the end of April after 20 years at the HVA, said the river is a binding presence throughout Berkshire County.

"It's a thread that connects the communities here," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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