Thoreau’s Vacation


In the Merrimack Valley the signs of the future are still overshadowed by the relies of the past. Enough time has passed for the sites of its industrial heyday to take on the appeal of antiques. Largely through the efforts of Massachusetts^ young senator Paul Tsongas, who grew up there, a national historic park is taking shape among the maze of canals and factories at Lowell. Guides conduct tours of the mills and mill yards. But at the same time, the new high-tech industry has spread northward into the Merrimack Valley, rising among the sites of “historic preservation.” The visitor begins to see the monuments of the new industrial era, exemplified by the fourteen-story building of the computer-making Wang Laboratories. Even in a time of national recession the valley shows signs of a new prosperity.


Meanwhile the river itself is being restored to something like its original condition. Under the guidance of Nathan Tufts, Jr., the six-year-old Merrimack River Watershed Council has carried on an ambitious program to clean up the water and develop the lower basin for recreational use. With pressure from the states and funding from the federal government, the big cities along the river have installed more or less effective sewage treatment plants.

ALTHOUGH THE Merrimack was on the ten-most-polluted list, it is an easier case than some, for its current is swift and its bed, in many sections, rocky. Once the flow of sewage is stopped, it cleans itself quickly. Even the shad and the salmon are coming back. Sometime in the not too distant future it may be possible to canoe all the way down the Merrimack, as well as the Concord, without the risk of paddling through an outflow of sewage, and perhaps to catch a fish to cook over a campfire. Thoreau looked forward to that day: “Perchance, after a few thousands of years, if the fishes will be patient, and pass their summers elsewhere, meanwhile, nature will have leveled the Billerica dam and the Lowell factories, and the Grass-ground River run clear again to be explored by new migratory shoals, even as far as the Hopkinton pond and the Westborough swamp.”