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Volunteers are driving force behind Naugatuck's rebirth

Thursday, August 20, 2015 10:52 AM EDT
Volunteers are driving force behind Naugatuck's rebirth


Bob Gregorski, head of the Naugatuck Watershed Association, who stocked the first salmon in the Naugatuck River in 1992, fishes in Linden Park on Wednesday. This is the 60th anniversary of the flood of 1955, and the river is much cleaner now thanks to the efforts of people like Bob Gregorski and others such as Naugatuck ROTC cadets, Trout Unlimited, and other volunteers who cleaned up and also planted streamco willow bushes, as seen behind Gregorski, every year that help evade erosion off the banks. Darlene Douty Republican-American.

The Naugatuck River of 1955, which stormed its banks and destroyed neighborhoods, was not just an angry river 60 years ago, but a dead one.

The Flood of 1955

"There were no fish in the river," said Steve Gephard, a fisheries biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "I've heard that when the state Department of Health did a survey of the river, they couldn't even find bacteria living in it."

How did the river get from there to the present, when a portion is close to losing its official polluted status?

Stricter state and federal environmental laws passed in the late 1960s and early 1970s started the process. Many industries that dumped wastes have since disappeared.

The eight municipal sewage plants along the river were upgraded or replaced, the most significant being Waterbury's in 2000.

But much of the turnaround has been a grassroots effort.

Bob Gregorski is a 76-year-old retired math teacher from Pomperaug High School. An avid fly fisherman, the Middlebury resident was one of the instigators when the Pomperaug chapter of Trout Unlimited changed into the Pomperaug-Naugatuck chapter in 1984.

"Nobody was touching the river back then," said Gregorski, who is also president of the Naugatuck Watershed Association and an outdoors columnist for the Republican-American. "We thought it was a diamond in the rough."

"We saw such degradation and abuse of the river, and we thought we should try to do something about it," said Frank McDonald, 84, a former state Supreme Court justice and another member of the chapter.

In 1987, Trout Unlimited got state permission to purchase trout and stock them in the river. "We figured if only some survived, they'd be the hardiest fish on the planet," Gregorski said.

Shortly thereafter, the DEEP started stocking its own trout. In 1992, it started stocking Atlantic salmon.

TROUT UNLIMITED INVITED community groups to join its cleanup efforts, working with a dozen different school organizations and three scout troops. Thousands of people have taken part in more than 60 cleanups in the Waterbury-Naugatuck stretch of the river over the last 30 years.

They have lugged everything from lawn mowers to car transmissions to sofas out of the river, while planting more than 20,000 trees and bushes to reduce erosion and restore the riparian habitat.

Special thanks to our sponsors:

  • ion Bank
  • Connecticut Community Foundation
  • Aquarion Water Company
  • Siemon