Website promotes transition of Naugatuck River

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A view of the Naugatuck River from the Depot Street bridge in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

A river runs through the Naugatuck Valley and it’s clean. It wasn’t always that way.

A new website, www.naugatuckriver.net, has been created to promote the Naugatuck River’s transition from eyesore to destination, offering information about activities and destinations like the Naugatuck Valley river race and Beacon Falls duck festival held May 5.

The 130 participants who paddled six miles from Waterbury to Beacon Falls wouldn’t have considered the journey safe even a decade ago.

“It’s the first time since colonial times people are using the river on a regular basis,” said David Faber, who operates Connecticut Outdoors, a kayak and canoe outfitter in Oakville. Faber organized the first race five years ago.

“Back in the 1970s if you went on the water you would come off and smelled bad. It has the distinction, along with rivers in Michigan and another in Ohio, of once having so much toxic goo on it that it burned,” Faber said.

The idea for the site, launched this month, was an outgrowth of discussion at the Naugatuck River Forum held February 2011 in Waterbury to celebrate the river’s rebirth. Something needed to be done to draw together the many groups involved in its resurrection and to promote newfound recreational and economic assets and scenic beauty.

Representatives from the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley, Trout Unlimited, the Naugatuck River Watershed Association, Connecticut Community Foundation and Naugatuck River Revival Group formed a steering committee and worked together to outline a vision for the site. Pomfret Technologies designed it. The Housatonic Valley Association compiled and edited its content and hired a part time web coordinator.

The site is intended to serve as a clearinghouse for activities and projects along the river, and to serve as a link between 11 river corridor towns and various organizations working to promote and restore it. It also highlights the development of the Naugatuck River Greenway, a series of publicly accessible paths with river access running from Torrington to Derby. The greenway was recently named one of 100 of America’s Great Outdoor initiatives by the Department of the Interior.

Information on fishing paddling, cleanups, and walking activities on and along the river, and a calendar of events and links to news stories is also included.

“It was determined that a central resource for information and activities was needed,” said Josh Carey, program officer for the Connecticut Community Foundation, the organization which sponsored the forum. “There were a lot of things going on and a website was a way to provide better visibility. This is an opportunity for the public to find everything in one place.”

Although the total budget wasn’t disclosed, contributions were provided by Naugatuck Savings Bank, Connecticut Community Foundation, United Illuminating, Union Savings Bank, Wesson Energy, Friends of the Naugatuck River, Platt Brothers, Thomaston Savings Bank and Valley Community Foundation.

The river, so long regarded as an open sewer, now offers wide ranging recreational activities.

“The industry of the area was once driven by the river, and unfortunately over the years it wasn’t seen as the asset it is now,” Carey said.

The river’s history and current and future projects, including developments in the greenway’s construction and the removal of five dams, is described. Topographical and aerial maps guide visitors to river access points and state and local parks. Water quality and trout restoration efforts are also detailed.

“There is a lot of interest in capitalizing on the river and its tributaries, on the environmental and cultural assets,” HVA Director Lynn Werner said. “It was an asset 30 years ago because you could use it to quickly send waste downstream.”

Although firm numbers aren’t available, anecdotal data suggests that parks along its corridors fill up quickly during the warmer months.

HVA works to conserve the natural character and environmental health of communities by protecting and restoring the land and waters of the 2,000-square-mile Housatonic watershed from its source in central Massachusetts to Long Island Sound.

“The goal was to bring together groups involved with the river, to learn about the river that still carries a stigma that it’s polluted, and promote it and the communities along it,” said Meghan Ruta, HVA’s water protection manager said. “Our fundamental belief is that before someone can care about a resource they have to experience it.”

The site will evolve to include new categories of information, such as where to rent fishing equipment or snowshoes. Contributions are welcome.

“Websites need to be fluid to keep viewers coming back,” Werner said.

Faber said most people would be surprised to know how scenic the view has become from the waterway, which is publicly owned.

“There is grass coming up now that wasn’t there before and animals are coming to the shoreline,” he said.