THE HOOSIC RIVER IN NORTH ADAMS History
The City of North Adams was a thriving mill community during the 1800’s due in part to the industriousness of its residents, but also because of its location at the junction of the North and South Branches of the Hoosic River. These fast-flowing waters provided power to drive the machinery in the cotton, woolen, and cloth dyeing mills; it also served as a convenient way to get rid of waste from these mills.
Sadly, even within the memory of current North Adams residents, the Hoosic River ran different colors, smelled awful, and carried toxic waste. Furthermore, in the early 1900s, the River often overflowed its banks posing a threat to city infrastructure and to its residents. In response to the serious damage that occurred during these floods, the US Corps of Engineers in the 1950s constructed 45 foot wide / 10-15 foot high concrete flood control chutes. The three-sided chutes funnel the two branches of the Hoosic River through North Adams’ downtown, creating a concrete chute that looks more like a drainage ditch than a river. See a detailed map of the flood chutes here.
The chutes have done their job; the River is no longer a danger during heavy rains. And, due to tighter environmental regulations from the Federal Government, the River presents no health threat to the City’s residents, but one should not eat the fish due to the residual presence of PCBs. Notably, the chutes are now over 60 years old, and are showing serious signs of aging. Given the age of the chutes and the expected effects of climate change on our weather patterns, our engineers have provided us with 21st Century flood protection design modifications.
For the past eight years we have been working with river ecologists and engineers in order to determine how we can make the river an asset for our city, while ensuring the public that maintaining flood protection is a priority. In other parts of the tri-state area, the Hoosic River, one of the best cold-water fisheries in Massachusetts, is healthier, more beautiful to look at, and a recreational resource for fishing and boating. The Hoosic in downtown North Adams has none of these qualities. The State considers it ‘impaired’: too warm in the summer and totally lacking in habitat for fish and wildlife. Furthermore, the fencing and design of the concrete flood chutes make the river inaccessible and most unattractive.
A revitalized Hoosic River would be a benefit to our residents and a dynamic, sustainable natural resource.The River Revival wants city residents to be able to reconnect with the river, wherever it is feasible and safe to do so, with a corridor along the river suitable for community gatherings, biking, walking, historical markers, cultural events, and celebrations. This kind of development would contribute to the economic health of our city by creating connections between neighborhoods, MASS MoCA and the downtown areas. Additionally, there will be opportunities to develop riverfront-related businesses.
We invite you to learn about the work we have done, to look at the flood control/river revitalization projects that inspire us, and to share your thoughts about this project with us.