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Coalition helps the Connecticut River become the first National Blueway

Between 40 and 50 local and state entities, both public and private, from four states will work together to preserve the 410-mile-long Connecticut River and its watershed.

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People can get involved in protecting the river in many ways, large and small, Fisk says. They can take water-quality samples or plant trees on the banks of the river. They can help maintain one of several paddling trails on the river or campgrounds on its banks.

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“Whether you are living in rural Vermont or you are a school kid in a city like Hartford [Conn.] or Springfield [Mass.] you can get involved,” Fisk says.

American rivers can also provide a source for economic opportunity, so long as they are carefully managed, say both the US Department of the Interior and the US Department of Agriculture. The Connecticut River is an important economic source. About 1.4 million people enjoy the watershed yearly, and it contributes about $1 billion to local economies, according to the Trust for Public Land, a national, nonprofit land-conservation organization.

“Rivers are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to global warming,” Roberts says. “As sea levels rise, rivers rise, and property gets lost. The tidal area will start to extend further up. By monitoring these things now we can establish a baseline and see where we are in 20 years. The designation will help people realize the battle is not over.”

The National Blueway designation also offers a chance to better preserve the river’s history, Roberts says.

Historic covered bridges, known as kissing bridges or courting bridges, span the waterway in Vermont and New Hampshire. In Charleston, N.H., Fort No. 4 is the site of one of the first European settlements in the upper Connecticut River Valley. It wasn’t, however, the site of the first human settlement on the river. That dates back about 11,000 years when Paleo-Indians settled on its banks. Europeans arrived in 1614.

Over time the river valley has played an enormous role in the development of New England and the nation. It’s abundant wood and stone, and fertile valleys, made it an ideal place to settle. About 2.4 million people now live in the watershed area.

The river’s name comes from a French corruption of the Algonquian word “quinetucket,” which means “long tidal river.” That's an apt name considering the river stays tidal all the way to Windsor Locks, Conn., some 60 miles inland from its mouth.

Machine-tool factories have dotted the waterway from the Robbins and Lawrence Armory and Machine Shop in Windsor, Vt., to the Colt Factory in Hartford. The river rebounded starting in 1965 with passage of the federal Water Quality Act. The river's water quality has risen from Class D to Class B.

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