A view of the Housatonic River in northwest Connecticut. Photo by
The Litchfield County Times
By Michael Walsh
CORNWALL — Grant funding will help ensure the Housatonic Valley Association can hire interns for its River Information and Outreach program, which they said will help provide safe access to all points of the Housatonic River.
Lindsay Larson, the Connecticut Watershed Manager for the association, said the first thing she thinks of when it comes to offering equitable access to the river is making it usable for all types of users.
“What comes to mind first and foremost is a variety of access options that encompass all the various ways we see people enjoy the river,” Larson said. “A lot of folks think of more traditional user groups, like anglers or hikers or paddlers, but what we’re seeing is that there’s all kinds of ways that people like to connect and get outside and enjoy the river. That doesn’t mean being on the river, but being near it, by having a picnic and just getting out with a group of family and friends.”
The River Information and Outreach intern program, which started in 2018 with a single intern, supports that mission, Larson said. A grant worth $6,500 awarded by the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation will allow them to increase that to four interns in 2022.
“Two goals of the River Information and Outreach program are about river use that is safe and sustainable,” Larson said. “We want to see options that are also designed in a way that people will stay safe and is environmentally sustainable. That’s the big picture goal of the program.”
They are planning on hiring four interns to staff the position on weekends this summer, being stewards to the land and present for visitors to the river. They’ll be able to answer questions, promote clean usage by passing out garbage bags and generally be eyes on the ground to see how the river is being used.
Larson said this also helps some of the non-federal and non-state river site owners sometimes struggle to staff their locations. The interns, she said, help in that regard.
“The other goal is keeping sites open,” Larson said. “They don’t have that on the ground staff. It’s really helpful to them that they can keep their site open. They’re out every weekend talking to people, answering questions. The real focus is that we’re here to help you, how can we help you have a more enjoyable day?”
Keeping sites open, Larson said, is part of their mission to make the river as equitable as possible.
“Who has easy access to the river, and who has to work a little harder? We want to make sure that people from all over can get to the sites and enjoy them for free and get out and get to know the river,” Larson said. “We would love to see more access down the road, that’s a bit more difficult. It involves a lot more planning and money. That’s something we’d like to see in the future. We have a lot of partners in this.”
The partners Larson mentioned include the Housatonic River Commission as well as the towns the river passes through in northwest Connecticut, including of Salisbury, Sharon, Kent, Cornwall, Canaan, New Milford and North Canaan. They also work with Eversource and FirstLight Power, who own river sites.
Larson said the River Information and Outreach program’s growth from one intern to four interns comes at a time where river usage has also increased. The COVID-19 pandemic, she said, was a particularly eye-opening look into how people’s relationships with the outdoor world changed.
“2020 hammered it home that these spaces are so important to people,” Larson said. “We saw a lot of heavy use in 2020 in the outdoor recreational area across the state. It really did emphasize that these spaces are really important for that and were alternatives to indoor recreation opportunities.”
Application information for the internships are available online at hvatoday.org.