Northampton creates new river access point; boating, recreation part of 11-acre project
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO At the request of Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the Northampton City Council on Thursday approved placing a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the June 25 ballot. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Officials gathered last week to commemorate the approval of a plan to build a community boathouse on the Connecticut River.
The boathouse, which will be constructed on land off Damon Road in Northampton, will host programs for Northampton youth and community rowing as well as provide new public access to the river.
“The Connecticut River is an important feature of the city of Northampton,” Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Friday. “One of the missing pieces is a lot of good access to that river for the people of the city and the Valley. This project takes another step forward toward providing that recreational access.”
The 11-acre parcel of riverfront property was given to the city by Lane Construction Corp., said Wayne Feiden, director of the Office of Planning and Development.
The project will not only provide people with safe and easy access to the river, but will help bring visitors from all over New England to the area, said state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton.
“Some day, where we have all this gravel here now, there’s going to be license plates from all over the Northeast,” Kocot said, motioning to the site of the future boathouse. “We’re going to have regattas, we’re going to have seniors out there in canoes and kayaks, we’re going to have youngsters learning how to row, we’re going to have people having fun. Our hotels are going to be full, our restaurants will be full.”
In addition to the boathouse, part of the land will be preserved in its natural state, and another part will be devoted to commercial development, creating recreational, conservational and economic benefits for the community, Narkewicz said.
“It’s got all elements,” he said. “It promotes open space and preservation and the economic side as well.”
But not all City Council members are supporters of the project. Ward 7’s Eugene Tacy was the only council member to vote against the new boathouse. He said he believes the money should be spent elsewhere, such as providing unrestricted local aid to cities and towns.
“In this economic environment, I don’t believe it’s prudent to build a boathouse,” he said. “There are people that are starving in western Massachusetts. We don’t need a boathouse.”
The boathouse is not a necessity, he said, especially given that the crew and rowing teams already have free access to the Oxbow Marina.
But the Oxbow Marina isn’t the ideal place for recreational boaters because of the heavy motorboat traffic on that part of the river, said Nora Blake, president of Northampton Youth and Community Rowing. She said she hopes the new boathouse will allow them to expand their programs to include canoeing and kayaking workshops for people of all ages.
Council members and representatives of Lane Construction Corp. agree that increased traffic on Damon Road could be a negative side effect of the project, but hope the benefits will outweigh the costs, Feiden said.
The project will help to preserve a historically important place in the Pioneer Valley while also benefiting current residents, said Jonathan Wright of Northampton Youth and Community Rowing.
“There’s a historical piece to this,” he said. “The reason that people settled here is because of this river.”