New Bedford Rowing Program Takes Giant Leap Forward

Agreement Brings New Bedford’s Rowing Dream Into Focus
By Charis Anderson, New Bedford Standard-Times

Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing Inc., led a tour yesterday through the group’s boathouse along the Charles River. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

BOSTON — Mayor Scott W. Lang’s long-held dream to transform the Acushnet River into a center of rowing activity took a step closer to reality Thursday with the official announcement of a partnership between the New Bedford Economic Development Council and Community Rowing Inc.
“This is an economic stimulus type of project, a quality of life project,” Lang said. “I think that it reconnects New Bedford with an important part of its history.”
The agreement with Community Rowing was announced Thursday during a press conference at the organization’s new boathouse on the Charles River in Brighton.
“I see the Head of New Bedford and about 15 other races down there,” said Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing.
Community Rowing is a nonprofit founded in 1985 with the goal of making the sport of rowing accessible to a broad range of people; more than 1,500 people row with the organization each year, according to information on its Web site.
“Rowing is a sport for everybody,” Smith said. “We’ve found that as soon as someone comes down to the water, they’re hooked.”
The first step in the new partnership, Smith said, is to develop a good plan for bringing rowing to New Bedford.
Community Rowing is working with a strategic planner from Harvard on that effort, according to Smith.
Additionally, the organization will begin writing grant proposals in an attempt to secure funding for at least one New Bedford-based staff person as well as equipment and other necessary items, according to Smith.
The required infrastructure to get people on the water is already in place — Chris Corkery, managing partner of Fairhaven’s Seaport Inn, has built an 80-foot-long launch dock that the rowing program can use — and it is possible that students will be rowing in New Bedford this spring, Smith said.
Planning for a boathouse on the former site of Fairhaven Mills is under way, and construction could begin within 12 to 18 months, according to Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the Economic Development Council.
Dredging of the river near Sawyer Street, the proposed site of the boathouse, has already been completed, said Kristin Decas, executive director of the city’s Harbor Development Commission.
If funding can be identified, it would be possible to build a launch dock on the site even before the boathouse is completed, she said.
Over the last three years, the city has worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection to assess the environmental issues along the proposed course and to determine the feasibility of using the Upper Harbor for rowing.
An independent evaluation of the harbor concluded that there is no significant risk for rowers.
Additionally, the city will work with the Board of Health and the EPA over the next several months to develop safety protocols similar to those used on other urban waterways, a release stated.
While students won’t be out rowing until spring, it’s possible that elite rowers might pop up on the river much sooner.
Unlike the Charles River, the Acushnet River does not freeze during the winter, which allows people to row on it year-round, according to Smith.
To keep training on the water throughout the winter, elite rowers from the Northeast have had to travel to warmer states, such as Florida or California, Smith said.
“Now they don’t have to go that far,” he said.
canderson@s-t.com
November 20, 2009 12:00 AM
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091120/NEWS/911200347
New Bedford, Boston Rowing Group Partner in New Venture
By Brian R. Ballou, Boston Globe Staff

Against a backdrop of sleek racing shells stacked in a boathouse along the Charles River, Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford announced yesterday that his city has teamed with Community Rowing Inc. to help bring the sport of rowing to the murky Acushnet River – and to the lives of the city’s schoolchildren and residents.
The six-month partnership is the first leg of a three-year, $40 million plan Lang conceived to create a top-level rowing course on the Acushnet, with amenities such as a boathouse, launch deck, and observation areas on the river’s banks.
“This will be an economic stimulus for us, and improve the quality of life,’’ Lang said, standing in front of the Community Rowing boathouse in Brighton, considered by the US Rowing Association to be one of the best programs in the country. “It’s about getting people outside, involved in their environment, reconnecting New Bedford to an important part of its history: its river.’’
Rowing, he added, is part of the region’s unsung past. It was one of the first organized amateur sports in New Bedford, and the Acushnet was rowed upon 125 to 150 years ago, he said.
The river is undergoing a massive cleanup, necessary because in the mid-1900s, industries tossed tons of hazardous material into New Bedford Harbor, creating one of the most polluted coves in the country. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been dredging the river since 2000, will remain there for at least another decade.
EPA officials and representatives from the state’s Department of Health said at yesterday’s press conference that although sediment remains a concern, rowers participating in the sport under normal guidelines would not face undue health risks.
Lang wants to create a rowing haven that would stand out as one of the region’s best.
Nature has already laid out a perfectly calm mile-and-a-half course, north of the Coggshall Bridge, and a 1,200 meter course south of the bridge is the type that, if built from scratch, would cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, rowing specialists say. The river has natural barriers to wind, and there is enough riverbank to accommodate the expansion of mixed-use and retail space, in addition to parking lots and viewing areas. The harbor is easily accessible, just off Interstate 195.
The city has already built an enhanced off-ramp from the highway, laid sidewalks, and installed street lighting, and a project is underway to restore the river banks.
Launch ramps have been built and groundbreaking for the boathouse, which will be based on designs by MIT students, is expected next year. The entire project is funded by private foundations, state grants, and in-kind donations from the city.
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the investment will probably see huge returns to the city, creating jobs and attracting spectators during special rowing events.
Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing Inc., said he will visit New Bedford Schools in the coming months to get the word out that in addition to football, basketball, baseball, and other sports, rowing is an option.
In introducing rowing to schools in Boston, Smith said the largest hurdles that students have faced were transportation to the river and learning how to swim. “I think we may see that in New Bedford as well. I bring those rowing machines with me into the hallways, and I talk with athletic directors and coaches, to let them know that we aren’t looking for their top athletes, we want anyone.’’
Chyrel Gallagher, 60, a Community Rowing member, said she got involved in the sport five years ago. After an early morning row yesterday on the Charles River, she said, “This is a wonderful sport for people of all ages to get involved in.’’
November 20, 2009
Source URL: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/11/20/new_bedford_boston_rowing_group_partner_in_new_venture/

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