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Voyagers put focus on the Merrimack - Four-day kayak trip spans 117 miles

by Richard Lodge, The Salem News

After four days paddling through scenic landscapes, sudden rainstorms, challenging rapids and invisible sewage released into the waters around them, a cluster of kayakers landed at Plum Island Point on Saturday, marking the end of a 117-mile trek to shine a light on the Merrimack River.

Eight voyagers set off Wednesday from Franklin, New Hampshire, led by Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn and Dan Graovac, president of the board of the Merrimack River Watershed Council, to highlight the importance of the river to the economic, environmental and recreational picture of the region.

Attention has focused on the Merrimack in the past year and a half with publicity about frequent discharges of millions of gallons of untreated sewage — called combined sewer overflows, or CSOs — from some treatment plants from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Haverhill.

These discharges often happen during storms when runoff combines with sewage at plants that can't handle the volume. Several plants reported CSOs on Wednesday during a rainstorm that drenched the kayakers and prompted them to spend the first night in the home of a supporter of the trip. They camped the following two nights and slept in tents next to the river.

Along the way, they met with local and state officials in both states to talk about how to improve the river quality, and were joined for stretches of the trip by others.

State Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, one of the four-day voyagers, said the "goal was to learn more about the Merrimack and the importance of protecting it, from an environmental standpoint, but also acknowledging the economic benefit it has for communities" from Newburyport to the river's source in New Hampshire.

Kelcourse, who said he had never kayaked seriously until this trip, ran rapids along the way but was upended in rough water in Hooksett, New Hampshire.


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