Berkshire Eagle

POSTED: 08/15/2014 12:11:43 AM EDT

Providence, R.I., provides a textbook example of how a river freed from unnatural constraints can dramatically enhance the aesthetics and economic vitality of a community. Ideally, North Adams has taken the first step toward seeing this happen first-hand.

A portion of an environmental bill signed by Governor Deval Patrick Wednesday authorizes $8.8 million to fund the first phase of the Hoosic River Revival Project, which is designed to restore the river to its natural state, or close to it. Obviously, flood control remains a consideration, but the 12-foot-high concrete chutes installed by the Army Corps of Engineers represent 1950s technology. The chutes have trapped the river, causing it to resemble, as author and environmentalist Lauren Stevens wrote in his Eagle column four years ago, “a drainage canal running though a minimum security prison.”

Mr. Stevens and others, like Hoosic River Revival founder and president Judy Grinnell, have long envisioned and advocated for a much different Hoosic River, one that could draw people to its banks to walk, ride bikes and fish for trout. Restaurants could collect along the river, as is the case in Providence, and space could be set aside for small parks.

The bill also included $1.1 million for the completion of a much-needed multipurpose turf facility at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.

The city’s high school football teams would greatly benefit, as would lacrosse and soccer teams, and Pittsfield would be able to host Western Mass. or state championships.

The governor’s signing authorizes the spending for these projects but the Legislature must vote to release the funds — and the sooner the better. In the case of the Hoosic River, release of that money would provide leverage for more funding from private, state and federal sources. The public must continue to be involved in the process to allay fears and determine what sections of the river should be focused upon and what proposals best suit the river and the city. The process may be a lengthy one but it should be exciting as well, as North Adams brings the Hoosic River back to what it once was.