Lawmakers, state officials focus on Conn. River’s significance during day-long paddle

  • A daylong paddle down the Connecticut River by state legislators and local leaders passes under the French King Bridge on Monday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, arrives in Barton Cove to finish the first leg of the day-long paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, second from left, and others paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday to raise awareness of the river’s importance. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State officials and others paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday to raise awareness of the river’s importance. Participants shared the experience on social media using #WeLoveOurRiver. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The first leg of the day-long paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday went from the Riverview Picnic Area in Northfield to Barton Cove in Gill. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A day-long paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday by state legislators and local leaders passes fall foliage. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and others get ready to paddle down the Connecticut River on Monday to raise awareness of the river’s importance. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • State officials and others paddle past the French King Rock, adorned with an American flag, on the Connecticut River on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2020 3:33:16 PM

Instead of powering up their computers or picking up ringing phones, state legislators and local leaders were zipping up life jackets and picking up paddles at the Riverview Picnic Area in Northfield early Monday morning.

Led by state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Karen Foster, executive director of the nonprofit All Out Adventures, the group gathered for a daylong paddle event called “A Tribute(ary) to the Connecticut River” to raise awareness about the river’s important connection to the environment, farms, economy, and culture, as well as its significance to Indigenous communities. Legislators shared the experience on social media using #WeLoveOurRiver.

“The Connecticut River runs 67.7 miles through western Massachusetts, and is one of 14 American Heritage Rivers and the first-ever National Blueway,” Comerford said, referring to a short-lived program created by the White House in 2012 as part of the Great Outdoors Initiative.

The river, Foster said, is part of the identity of western Massachusetts, and “its beauty, especially on an early chilly morning, cannot be matched.”

Through All Out Adventures, based in Northampton, Foster and her staff provide accessible outdoor recreation opportunities to people with disabilities, as well as their family members and friends. Foster said her staff takes deep pride in making the river accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

The group launched from the Riverview Picnic Area in Northfield at roughly 8:30 a.m. Stopping at Barton Cove in Gill, they removed their kayaks from the water and drove to Sunderland, where they returned to the water and continued to Northampton.

As they exited the river at in Gill, many participants continued to marvel at the beautiful scenery they took in on the first leg of the paddle.

Ashley Randle, deputy commissioner and policy and legislative director with the state Department of Agricultural Resources, said it was a “humbling experience” to be on the water, basking in the views of the changing foliage and wildlife along the river. Comerford noted they saw a bald eagle, which “buzzed right over” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.

In addition to discussing the river’s natural beauty, the group touched on its connection to local agriculture and the economy. Theoharides said the river carries fertile sediments, enriching the farmlands of the Valley and connecting the people of western Massachusetts through a shared natural resource. Randle added that the significance of the river, and its ability to provide healthy soils and water access, is “not overlooked” by farmers, especially in a year of drought.

“As we continue forward and our farmers in the region continue to farm for generations to come,” Randle said, “the Connecticut River and this area remain a very important part of our portfolio at (the Department of Agricultural Resources).”

Having grown up in Easthampton, state Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, said he has been swimming and fishing in the Connecticut River his whole life, and now the river runs through the district he represents. He said the Connecticut River is a local treasure as a natural habitat for a wide array of wildlife and vegetation, as a source for fertile farmlands, and as a beautiful recreation area.

“I hear from the farmers about how important this river is for their fertile farmland,” Carey said. “We know that’s true up and down the Valley, so I’m really excited to see it all the way through from here (Northfield) down to Hadley and Northampton.”

After stopping in Gill, Carey said the paddle was a great way “to see a new vantage point of the river” and to further focus on the need to maintain the natural resource.

“Being able to talk about the river while being on the water was great,” added Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Greenfield-based Connecticut River Conservancy.

Fisk noted the river has sustained human populations for thousands of years, and its care is central to the lives of millions of people today and into the future. He said part of Monday’s conversations revolved around ways to mitigate erosion. Rivers with hydropower facilities, such as the Connecticut River, tend to flow faster than they would naturally, which can exacerbate erosion.

Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs Rhonda Anderson, who is also founder and co-director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center, said the river has been an integral place for Indigenous people to reside, gather, farm, harvest foods and medicine, hunt and fish. The Connecticut River is named after the Pequot word “quinetucket,” meaning long tidal river, and Anderson said the land they launched from in Northfield is Abenaki territory.

“As the Connecticut River is continuously moving, shifting, giving life, it too is considered a living being,” Anderson said. “It has memory. Our water is our first medicine. Without water, there would be no life. We are all connected by 11,000 miles of watershed on this river, and in that way, she gives us all life.”




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