Our opinion: Letting the Hoosic run through North Adams

The Berkshire Eagle

POSTED: 11/12/2014

Penned in by concrete, the Hoosic River in North Adams has been like a caged animal for too long. On Monday, a major step was taken to free it.

A ceremony was conducted along a section of the river near Noel Field to celebrate the announcement that $500,000 in funding from the state’s Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration had been granted to initiate the first phase of the revitalization effort. A total of $8.8 million for the first phase was included in a $2.2 billion environmental bond bill signed by Governor Deval Patrick in August, and this is the first installment.

This effort began with the founding of the group Hoosic River Revival by Judy Grinnell, who serves as the HRR president. After six years of hard work, the organization can now choose a designer for the first mile of the project, which will extend from the river near the former Sons of Italy building to Hunter Foundry Road off Route 8.

A true grassroots effort, the Revival group has involved the community throughout the process and will do so as it seeks a designer it hopes to choose by December. Once that section is successfully completed it should be easier to move forward as the project will be established and the funding for it will have been proven justified.

The imprisoning of the river with concrete flood chutes in the 1950s probably seemed like a good idea at the time. That was the preferred method of addressing occasional flooding in that era, and the Army Corps of Engineers wasn’t charged with considering aesthetics in doing the project. A half-century ago, urban rivers were seen more as nuisances to be controlled than potential benefits to a community.

That has changed, and there is no better place in the Northeast to visit to see how that has changed than Providence, R.I. The gritty industrial city unleashed and redirected its river, and it now winds elegantly through downtown, lined by trees, walking paths and benches. Not surprisingly, restaurants and small business buildings have sprung up near the banks to enjoy proximity to a waterway that draws people downtown.

The Hoosic has this potential, and as a smaller community than Providence it should be more naturally accommodating to fish and wildlife. North Adams, a city that could use some good news, received some Monday, and the good news produced by the river and its advocates should continue.