Nashua 50 Editorial: Nashua River needn’t remain a ‘hidden’ asset

In Nashua, a river runs through it – and few pay attention.

We all know the stories. New England towns built factories on the banks of rivers, forming the backbone of industry in the 1700s and 1800s, and then used those same rivers as dumping points for all manner of pollutants and waste.

There was a reason people and businesses turned their backs on rivers then – who wanted to see what flowed by?

Much has changed. Wastewater treatment, the departure of dirty industries and a heightened focus on protecting and appreciating water ecosystems have altered the way we see our precious waterways – if we look.

Our reporter David Brooks, in a Sunday Telegraph story last week, noted there is no graffiti under the Main Street Bridge. A good thing? Sure, but it’s also a sign of how ignored the river is.

Brooks, writing as part of The Telegraph’s Nashua 50 project, correctly identified the river as a hidden asset, running relatively clean but mostly ignored. Access is limited. Getting to the river downtown, with a canoe or kayak, is not for those unwilling to risk a fall.

To understand a river’s downtown potential, consider cities such as San Antonio, which has famously capitalized on the meandering San Antonio River with restaurants, shops and hotels lining its banks.

Closer to home, Littleton provides significant access to the Ammonoosuc River for swimming, picnics, fishing and strolling nearby. Its Riverwalk, through the downtown, includes a covered bridge and allows pedestrians a pleasant experience as the Ammonoosuc tumbles toward the Connecticut River to the east.

Many people forget that Portsmouth is built on the banks of a river, the Piscataqua, large enough to support shipping and recreational craft, but nonetheless a gem of a backdrop for restaurants, upscale housing and boutique businesses.

In all of these cases, the communities once treated their rivers in the same fashion as Nashua – poorly. But opportunities were seen later to utilize that which had been denigrated.

Access to the Nashua River downtown is clearly problematic. The Riverwalk, a two-mile paved and gravel trail running between the Cotton Building and BAE Systems, makes a stab at providing views on both sides of the river.

But it does not take one to the water. It provides pleasing overlooks from the Jackson Falls condos, Peddler’s Daughter, Portland Pie Co. and Margaritas restaurants, but the Riverwalk only hints at what could be.

Dams at Jackson Falls and upriver at Mine Falls Park create obstacles to a free-flowing system from the Merrimack River to points significantly upstream. Mine Falls shows us what a wonderful resource Nashua has in its river and the wooded setting there.

How nice it would be to extend the Mine Falls trail system more effectively to the downtown and to create a riverfront around Main Street that provides more accessibility. Perhaps there are opportunities afforded by the Broad Street Parkway and John Stabile’s plans for condos near the Cotton Building.

As priorities go, Nashua has many, but capitalizing on the river – at least downtown – would have immeasurable benefits.

Those should flow closer to the top of the list.