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Recreational Guide: The Housatonic River

The Housatonic River is one of the great assets in the New England area. The river shaped the growth of Connecticut during the industrial revolution by providing waterpower for mill towns like Shelton & Derby that sprang up along it's banks. While problems do exist in defined stretches, overall the river is characterized by high water quality. The river's flows are sufficient to support Class I, II, III and IV whitewater rafting rapids.

Housatonic River GeographyThe Housatonic rises from four sources in far western Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains.The Housatonic River flows 149 miles from its four sources in western Massachusetts. Following a south to southeasterly direction, the river passes through western portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut before reaching its destination at Long Island Sound at Milford Point. The Housatonic River has a total fall of 1430 feet (959 feet from the confluence of the East and West Branches). Its major tributaries are the Williams, Green and Konkapot Rivers in Massachusetts, the Tenmile River in New York, and the Shepaug, Pomperaug, Naugatuck and Still Rivers in Connecticut.The East Branch begins at Muddy Pond in Hinsdale and flows a distance of approximately 17 miles, dropping 480 feet before merging with the main stem. The West Branch starts from Pontoosuc Lake and joins the Southwest Branch at Clapp Park in Pittsfield. From there it flows a short distance until it is joined by the East Branch near Pittsfield's Fred Garner Park.The Housatonic River main stem, which flows in a southerly direction 132 miles to its outfall at Long Island Sound at Milford Point in Connecticut. The main stem of the river has an overall drop of 959 feet. The Housatonic River and its tributaries drain an area of 1,948 square miles. From its headwaters flowing south toward Great Barrington, the valley is narrow and the river flows quickly, characterized by several swift drops in elevation, before it emerges from the Berkshire Hills. In this section there is a good deal of commercial and industrial development. The lower region is rich in farmland, and through this section the river flows more slowly, meandering its way through the valley to Falls Village in Connecticut.The Housatonic River estuary produces one-third of all the seed oysters which are a vital part of Connecticut's commercial shellfish industry. In this lower 12 mile section of the river are tidal wetlands and salt marshes which provide important habitat for plants, birds, shellfish, finfish and other aquatic life. The Housatonic River enters Long Island Sound at Milford Point.Housatonic River HistoryThe river's name comes from the Mohican phrase "usi-a-di-en-uk", translated as "beyond the mountain place". The Mohican family of the Algonkin Indians, who came from New York west over the Taconic mountains, were the first valley settlers. The river was sometimes known as "Potatuck", or the "Great River", until the 18th century. A large portion of the river basin was developed for agriculture in Colonial times.The Housatonic River is located in a predominantly rural area of western Massachusetts, where farming was the main occupation from colonial settlement through the late 1800s. As with most rivers, the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s brought manufacturing to the banks of the Housatonic River, in Pittsfield, MA. Water power played a prominent role in 19th century industrial development, and remnants of dams, mill races and iron ore furnaces can still be seen today. Northeast Utilities operates five hydroelectric facilities on the river today. Dams at three of these facilities - the Shepaug, Stevenson and Derby - form a chain of lakes, Candlewood Lake, Lake Lillinonah, Lake Zoar and Lake Housatonic, from New Milford south to Shelton. Much of the upper section of the river in Massachusetts is still in agricultural use, however, past industrial discharges of PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) into the river has created water quality problems. PCB's still remain in the river's sediments from Massachusetts to the Stevenson Dam in Connecticut. These synthetic organic chemicals can persist for decades and are a cause for concern and continued action.Further down in the valley, in the areas of New Milford and Brookfield, tobacco farms flourished until the surge of 20th century development. South of Derby, industrial development, including steel mills and heavy manufacturing, characterizes the river. This stretch is also a tidal estuary, which supports a number of critical habitats for rare plants and animals and is a significant contributor to Connecticut's shellfish population. The Housatonic estuary is the most consistent producer of seed oysters in the northeast as a public oyster bed, and generates over one-third of all oyster seed available to the state shellfish industry.The United State Navy also named a ship for the Housatonic river. The USS Housatonic has the distinction of being the first ship in history to be sunk by a submarine, the confederate vessel CSS H.L. Hunley.Housatonic River Rafting and RecreationWith more than 100,000 acres of public recreation land throughout the watershed, opportunities for swimming, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, sculling, boating, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing abound. The Appalachian Trail runs along the river for five miles between Kent and Cornwall Bridge, the longest stretch of river walk between Georgia and Maine. Farther north the trail again parallels the river for about one-mile in Sheffield, MA.Since it is a mild riverComputer Technology Articles, boating is typically limited to canoes and floating-type trips.† Many launch ramps are located along the river.† Connecticut rafting participants regularly visit the river for fun and relaxation.

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Ryan Hutchings is the Executive Director for the leading organization of white water rafting outfitters across North America, Rafting America.† He has extensive involvement with outfitters and the river rafting industry across the US, Canada and South America.† Ryan specializes in internet marketing and online business strategy.

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