by Rachel DeBerardinis, Eagle Tribune
A sunny day and bright, blue water greeted the 14 community leaders pausing in Haverhill on their two state, 117-mile journey down the Merrimack.
Calling themselves the Valley Voyagers, the group formed to highlight the environmental concerns, recreational opportunities and economic development on the river that provides drinking water to more than 600,000 people, as well as access to fishing, boating and paddling for thousands more.
The four-day trip started Wednesday in Franklin, New Hampshire, and ended Saturday on Plum Island. The group camped along the river during the journey.
The trip started as a recreational outing for Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn; Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce; and Derek Mitchell, executive director of the Lawrence Partnership. Merrimack River Watershed Council Board President Dan Graovac, quickly got involved in the planning the excursion.
“In the Merrimack Valley, we all work together to promote economic development and the river is central to just about everything we do," Glenn said in a statement before the trip. "By paddling together, we thought it would symbolically demonstrate the importance of our partnerships and also the beautiful resource that flows through our communities.”
Other local leaders signed on to participate, including state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and Groundwork Lawrence Executive Director Heather McMann.
Each of the lawmakers paddling on the voyage has sponsored legislation or amendments addressing the environmental concerns of cities and towns along the Merrimack, such as requiring more rapid notifications of sewage discharges in the river to protect swimmers and drinking water.
Glenn called the trip "awesome." He said it has been a great opportunity for everyone involved to see the natural resources of the Merrimack River and some of the environmental issues it faces.