Denny Alsop launches cross-state expedition calling for cleanup of polluted water resources

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By Tuesday, Mar 22 News  7 Comments
David Scribner
With his first strokes on the Housatonic River at Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield, Denny Alsop begins his 30-day trek across the Commonwealth to promote the preservation of the state's water resources, and in particular, to call for the cleanup of the Housatonic River, contaminated by decades of PCBs emanating from General Electric's transformer manufacturing complex in Pittsfield.

Sheffield – To the cheers of 40 well-wishers and the drumbeat of members of Berkshire Bateria, 69-year-old Denny Alsop of Stockbridge settled his white canoe into the Housatonic River at Bartholomew’s Cobble at 11 a.m. on Monday (March 21), embarking on a journey, first up the river, and then across the Commonwealth — by water where he can – a journey that will, in 30 days, bring him to the Statehouse in Boston where he will deliver a plea not only for the cleanup of the Housatonic River but for the restoration of waterways throughout Massachusetts.

Accompanied by the Berkshire Bacteria, Alsop wheels his canoe to the Housatonic River. Photo: Isaac Scribner

Accompanied by the Berkshire Bateria, Alsop wheels his canoe to the Housatonic River. Photo: Isaac Scribner

Alsop calls his journey Canoe for Clean Water, and this is second time that he’s felt the need to call attention to the plight of the Housatonic River – and the condition of the state’s waterways and drinking water. His first trek was in 1988 – with the same white canoe he launched this week.

By 10 a.m. there was a lively gathering of environmentalists – among them, Judy Herkimer of Housatonic Environmental Action League, Inc. (HEAL), officials from the Trustees of the Reservations, Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative, Berkshire Natural Resources Council – in front of the Trustees’ Bartholomew’s Cobble office on Weatogue Road. Alsop greeted his friends, who supplied him with last minute snacks – “serious” chocolate and venison jerky — for the laborious paddling upstream that he was about to undertake.

Among the supplies he is taking with him are two plastic water bottles in which students from the third grade at Muddy Brook Elementary School will insert messages to Gov. Charlie Baker, urging him to support a cleanup of the Housatonic River and to preserve the quality of water throughout the state.

The water bottles in which Muddy Brook students will place messages to Gov. Charlie Baker. Photo: David Scribner

The water bottles in which Muddy Brook students will place messages to Gov. Charlie Baker. Photo: David Scribner

“When I get to Taft Farms in Great Barrington on Thursday, I’m going to portage over to Muddy Brook and meet with students,” Alsop explained. “Then go up the Muddy Brook behind the school, and take back to the Housatonic.”

At last, it was time to begin the journey. Alsop loaded his canoe onto a two-wheeled carriage that he will take with him for the portages, and to the rhythm of Jim and Teri Weber’s Berkshire Bateria ensemble, he led the entourage around the Cobble and down to the river’s edge.

Standing on the banks of Housatonic before disembarking, Alsop recalled how when he left on his first cross-state clean water adventure, his 10-year-old son Ben had handed him a gallon of spring water to take with him that he would present to the governor. “If we don’t take care of our resources, the only clean water left will be water in this bottle,” he said. And he explained that his son couldn’t attend this send-off, but he had assigned the task of handing him a similar water bottle to 10-year-old Isaac Scribner of Great Barrington, “the next generation.”

Ten-year-old Isaac Scribner hands the jug of spring water to Denny Alsop to begin the trek.

Ten-year-old Isaac Scribner hands the jug of spring water to Denny Alsop to begin the trek.

Environmentalist Benno Friedman was among those who saluted Alsop.

“Denny is our courageous emissary,” Friedman declared. “He represents the best of civic engagement. It often begins with one person, to start a movement that can overcome the incredible power and money that is arrayed against a clean environment. This is the voice of the people and as he struggles to paddle up river, upstream against the current, against General Electric that opposes the cleanup of the rest of the river that Denny will be traversing, Denny is our metaphor.”

“This is going to be an adventure,” Alsop admitted. “Rachel Fletcher said that the river is something to open our hearts to. In a week, I’ll be at Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield where we’ll have another celebration. At that point, I will have gone the length of the Rest of the River. And that celebration is to recognize that the river can be cleaned up, as it has in Pittsfield, where the river is now restored. We can clean the river thoroughly and restore it.”

And referring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed remediation of the PCB contamination down river from Pittsfield, a remediation that General Electric is challenging, Alsop concluded: “And why now? This is probably our last best chance to get the river clean. And we can do it.”

And with that he placed the jug of spring water in his canoe, stashed his pack at his feet, and pushed off, to the cheers of those who were hoping that his vision of cleaner rivers and water everywhere would be fulfilled.

Denny Alsop on the Housatonic in Sheffield.

Denny Alsop on the Housatonic in Sheffield. Photo: Isaac Scribner


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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Eileen Mahoney says:

    Fabulous article/coverage on the Clean Water initiative. Kudos!

  2. Michelle Loubert says:

    Very cool…..thanks, Denny (and everyone else including HRI)!!!!

  3. Joyce Scheffey says:

    Another great Edge article. I wish I had been there.

  4. Michael Wise says:

    Fabulous Freudian in the foto caption: the Berkshire “Bacteria”! The band renamed itself for the occasion, maybe.

    1. I wish I could take credit for that Freudian slip but alas, it was my witty spell correction function instead.

      1. Laury epstein says:

        Funny!

  5. Sage says:

    Hooray for Denny ~~!!!!

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