Down the river: A source-to-sea journey



Published: 07-27-2017 3:41 PM

Editor’s note:  The Connecticut River Conservancy announced in statement Thursday that the remaining splash mob events associated with the source-to-the-sea journey have been canceled.

NORTHAMPTON — The Connecticut River wasn’t always as clean as it is now.

The river’s pollution problem was much worse in 1959 when chairman of the Connecticut River Watershed Council (now the Connecticut River Conservancy) Joseph Davidson and his wife made a trip down the river from its source to the sea, talking with local officials and documenting the journey.

He carried a bottle of water from the source of the river, the Fourth Connecticut Lake near the Canadian border in New Hampshire, and compared it to samples taken from other spots along the way. As he went down the river, the water became more contaminated.

In honor of the Connecticut River Conservancy’s 65-year anniversary, director Andy Fisk and his wife, Karen, are recreating the Davidsons’ journey, but this time they are celebrating the progress made in cleaning up the river and the work that still needs to be done.

The “Source to Sea Jump-in Journey” started on Sunday, July 16, in New Hampshire and is making its way through Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Events are held at various stops along the way focusing on themes such as stormwater pollution and riverbank erosion. Some stops featured so-called “splash mobs” in which people jump into the river for enjoyment — something they likely would not have done in Davidson’s time.

Fisk wears a red crusher hat and his wife Karen wears pearls, just like Davidson and his wife during their trip. They also carry a bottle of water from the river’s source and give out small vials of the water to those who participate in the splash mob events.

While the river may be clean and healthy, Fisk said more can be done to increase the fish population, which could be in the millions instead of thousands.

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The river journey stopped in Northampton Wednesday, where the Paradise City Dragon Boat Team held a dragon boat race at the Northampton Community Rowing Boathouse.

Dragon Boat team names were named after two migratory fish: eels and lampreys. “They are part of our job of restoring this river,” Fisk said.

Some local officials joined the race, including West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who were both racing dragon boats for the first time. They and other beginners got a quick lesson from coach Betsy Powell. She said the paddling technique is easy to learn and just about anyone can hop in the boat and give it a try.

For the race, Reichelt hoped the skills that earned him a canoeing merit badge years ago when he was a Boy Scout would come in handy.

“It paid off,” Reichelt said. His team won both of the two heats. “It was really fun,” he said.

Mickey Nowak, a project manager in Springfield of SUEZ Water Environmental Services Inc., also raced on the dragon boats. He said wastewater treatment plants, which clean wastewater before it’s sent back into the river, play a major role in keeping the river clean.

Nowak said many people ask what their sewer and water bills pay for.

“It’s for this,” Nowak said, standing by the boat access ramp to the river, referring to the beauty of the river.

Seven-year-old Cali Knox, of Holyoke, came down to the dock in Northampton to watch the race. She had a picnic with her family before jumping in for the splash mob.

“It was pretty cold,” she said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at

This story has been edited to remove reference to a splash mob event that has been canceled.