Berkshire River Activist Completes Month-Long Canoe Trip

Apr 20, 2016

In an update to a story we brought you in March, an environmental activist from the Berkshires is completing his month-long canoe trip across Massachusetts today in hopes of raising awareness of the importance of clean water.

On March 21, 69-year-old Denny Alsop launched his canoe in Sheffield with two paddles, a pole, a tent and a sleeping bag for the cross-state journey. The Housatonic River Initiative member has traversed about a dozen rivers since then, meeting various people along the way. We caught up with Alsop via cell phone outside of Boston.

“I met a really interesting person on the Assabet [River],” Alsop said. “A woman who invited me to set up my tent on her lawn. I went in the next morning for coffee and she said ‘What are you going to do next?’ I said ‘Last night I worried about what I’m going to do when I reach Boston.’ She said ‘Oh, Denny don’t worry about that. Just do what you did last night when you got here. Remember when you came to the back door you took off your boots before you came into the house and I said it’s alright you can wear muddy shoes into my house.’ I realized. Where I’m from in Stockbridge on the Housatonic [River] I can’t do that because the mud on my boots has PCBs in it. She said ‘Denny, when you get to Boston, take off your boots.’”

Alsop’s journey comes as the Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric are at odds over cleanup plans for the Housatonic River. GE’s Pittsfield facility dumped polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the waterway until the late 1970s when the chemical was banned. Alsop’s trip is a repeat of a similar voyage he took in 1988.

“Last time nobody really cared,” he said. “But within a couple of years of that trip we got the Massachusetts River Protection Act passed and signed into law by Governor [Bill] Weld. I think that may have been symbolic of all these little watershed groups work together, go to Boston and they work hard in their own communities. I’m feeling good about what I’m seeing, but I worry about my home river. Because as I cross Massachusetts the whole way I’m on cleaner water than what I leave behind me in the Berkshires on the Housatonic. It’s heavy, but it’s hopeful.”

In January, GE announced it was moving its headquarters from Connecticut, through which the Housatonic River also runs, to Boston. With that in mind, Alsop is carrying with him a letter welcoming the company to the state written by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. The letter also urges GE to complete the cleanup of the Housatonic.

“I’m going to put the canoe on the wheels and I’m going to wheel it through Boston to the new site for the General Electric headquarters over on Fort Point Channel,” Alsop said. “When I get to a place called Wormwood Park, I’m going to turn around, set the canoe down and read the letter. From there, my wife Nina will pick me up in the car and drive me home in about two and a half hours. Which is really going to blow my mind.”