Our Opinion: Fletcher leaves an enduring legacy

The 30-year success story of Housatonic River Walk founder Rachel Fletcher attests to both the value of a determined outsider's perspective and the ability of a community to come together behind a good leader to accomplish the unlikely, if not the impossible.

A Baltimore native and recent arrival from California, Ms. Fletcher saw the potential in a section of a polluted river disguised by overgrowth and refuse that the locals had long ago given up on. Beginning in 1988 with the start of the cleanup of the gutted wreck of Main Street's Melvin's Drug Store, which firefighters pushed over the edge of the riverbank 10 years earlier, Ms. Fletcher engaged in an ambitious cleanup and reclamation effort that led to her founding of the Housatonic River Walk. After 30 years, Ms. Fletcher is stepping down from that position (Eagle, August 7).

Ms. Fletcher praised the many allies she had in this effort, beginning with Peter Jensen, who came up with the river walk concept and designed and engineered it. Heather Cupo, River Walk's horticulturalist, and the late Monica Fadding, landscaped the Du Bois River Garden Park. And then there were the volunteers — thousands of children from schools and camps, regular citizens, and the seniors who became part of Will Conklin's Greenagers — who labored over the years to turn the half-mile walk into the recreational and aesthetic gem it is today.

Ms. Fletcher's work on the river walk led inevitably to a keen interest in the legacy of Great Barrington writer, educator and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who spoke of "the golden river" of his youth in 1930 and chastised those who failed to grasp the need to protect our natural heritage. Along with rescuing that segment of the river, Ms. Fletcher joined others in helping to rescue Mr. Du Bois' legacy, in part by getting the Du Bois Boyhood Homesite off Route 23 recognized as a national landmark.

Leadership of the river walk now passes to Christine Ward, who promises to continue the ongoing battle to protect the river walk, which includes a vigorous battle to fight invasive species without pesticides. We trust that future generations of volunteers will assist her successfully in that battle as did their predecessors alongside Rachel Fletcher over the past three decades.


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