Editorial: The Merrimack River could keep Concord cool

Published: 7/11/2018 12:05:07 AM

As a city, Concord has a lot to offer. Excellent schools, a rejuvenated downtown, a growing number of restaurants and entertainment venues, 21 parks, 26 hiking trails, a new community center and seven public pools. But the smothering heat and humidity that blanketed the region last week revealed that a basic component of the good life in summer is missing: an easily accessible, safe and natural place to swim.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way.

Concord has one lake, which as a public water supply, is off limits. It’s also home to a few ponds, but the biggest of them, Big and Little Turkey Ponds, are pond-locked by St. Paul’s School, which owns the shorelines. Dense strands of the invasive aquatic weed milfoil make those ponds, save for a spot or two, inhospitable to swimmers.

The shorelines of the city’s other ponds are also in private hands save for state boat ramps, but Concord does have a river, and the city owns a lot of land on its banks.

The Merrimack River, at least north of Manchester, is cleaner than it’s been in decades. It’s rated Class B, suitable for swimming and fishing.

It won’t be easy, would take a few years and may even prove impossible for reasons we can’t foresee, but Concord’s community leaders and city council should at least explore the possibility of creating a public swimming area on city land along the Merrimack.

A number of spots on the river in Concord already serve as swimming holes. We won’t name them because all have their drawbacks and none have lifeguards. They are all too small to host a crowd seeking relief during a blistering heat wave and one has a serious erosion problem exacerbated by swimmers. But the city owns more than 400 acres abutting the river.

It might be possible, without harm to the environment, to create a riverfront beach at city-owned land on the Merrimack. Failing that, a floating raft with cutouts that form in-river pools like those used on rivers in a number of cities, could be installed.

Kiwanis Riverfront Park, the beautiful but little-used spot behind Everett Arena, might make a good public swimming spot, one with plenty of parking most of the time. For a high-visibility spot that would sell the city as a happening place, how about a swimming area on city land across from downtown, land visible from Interstate 93 that someday will be served by a River Greenway trail?

The more people who use the river, the more support there will be for efforts to make it even cleaner.

An ambitious idea? Sure, but so was building three new elementary schools in one year, reconstructing Concord’s Main Street and opening a new community center.

It won’t be the Riviera, but Concord could have a swimming area, if people want one, on the river to call its own.

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