Tim Blagg

River cleanup a hoot

Our waterways a valuable resource

I had a blast last weekend down at the Greenfield Recreation and Swimming Area, on the banks of the beautiful Green River, helping in the annual “Source to the Sea” river cleanup.

I’ve always enjoyed the river, ever since we moved here more than 25 years ago ... it’s a cool, quiet stream that wends its way through the center of the town and offers surprising vistas as you drive to and fro on your daily business.

The pool itself is a treasure ... how many towns trap a local stream and turn it into a recreation area?

But I’ve always been puzzled at the way New England towns resolutely turn their backs on their rivers.

I suppose it goes back to the days when those banks were lined with mills. At first, they were the source of the mills’ power, then, when they converted to steam, the rivers became the dumping ground for all sorts of industrial runoff and debris.

Their beauty got lost in the shuffle and when they were cleaned up (often by court order!), the towns were oriented in the wrong direction.

Stop and think ... how many towns do you know where the river runs unnoticed behind rows of buildings, under busy bridges, past parks screened by rows of trees and underbrush, without any attempt by the local residents to take advantage of the possibilities of riverfront venues?

Some of that is changing, now, but it’s very slow ... and Greenfield is one of those towns that simply haven’t fully realized the potential.

Changing that would be easy, and really not very expensive.

Take Green River Park, for example.

It’s hidden and even local people aren’t aware of it.

To get there, you have to either drive up Meridian Street, near Green River School, and find your way down a small street. Or you have to drive up Deerfield Street, notice a poorly marked turnoff between some homes, find a place to park, then walk across a footbridge.

Once there, you’ll find a nice little park, but its namesake, the Green River, is practically invisible behind a row of trees. Access to the river itself requires negotiating a muddy bank.

Or take the old trailer park, flooded and abandoned to the town for “recreational” use. It’s just a big grassy field, which could — with appropriate care — be used to open access to the river. We can’t build any permanent structures on it ... that’s the deal with the federal government, which paid for the removal of the old mobile home park ... but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used.

There’s plenty of potential there, but it would require that the town put into place a long-term plan and then doggedly follow it.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

In the meantime, we have to protect the resource, and that means cleanup sessions like the one I was involved in.

A bunch of people gathered and spent most of Saturday driving back and forth to the swimming area, hauling away other people’s trash.

Some of the mess was probably the result of Irene’s surging flood waters, but most of it, unfortunately, was simply due to sloth, carelessness and piggishness.

I’ve never understood how somebody can have a picnic by the side of a gorgeous stream, enjoy its quiet beauty and then drop their trash on the ground and drive off.

Or decide to avoid the local trash fee, bag their junk, stick it in the car, then drop it off on the nearest riverbank.

It baffles me.

Nonetheless, there are other people who are willing to take their own private time and clean up that mess ... and for that I — as all of us should be — am grateful.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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