Down by the river

The Peabody riverwalk is a great idea intended to shine light into a shadow-filled part of the city that should be one of its centerpieces.

With Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s support and a City Council vote, the city is on its way to beautifying the stretch of the North River running through Peabody. The project won’t unfold overnight. It already has a two decade-old legacy dating back to the late Peter Torigian calling during his tenure as mayor for a riverwalk along the river.

With its beauty and history, the North River deserves to become a pleasant stretch of parkland with a running and bicycle path. The river’s course through Peabody parallels Main and Walnut streets but the riverway, in contrast to busy Main Street, is a neglected-looking underused section of the city that needs some positive attention.

Council approval allows city planners to apply for state money used by Peabody previously to undertake projects. The money can help the city make the crucial property purchases along the river necessary, in Bettencourt’s words, to “… make the riverwalk a reality.”

Other nearby communities have devoted time and money to make local waterways a recreational and conservation focus for their communities. Saugus has increased recreational use along the Saugus River and made improvements along the river stretch devoted to commercial fishing.

A state conservation Area of Critical Environmental Concern protects the Pines River and its wetlands and the Mystic River Watershed Association has championed environmental protection for the Mystic River along its course through a dozen communities, including Medford.

Rivers two centuries ago were water sources fueling fledgling economies dependent on mills. They became dumping grounds a century ago for Industrial Revolution factories and environmental awareness and advocacy has slowly but surely saved them over the last four decades from becoming toxic sewers.

Rivers and their tributaries connect communities and neighborhoods and paths flanking them provide the best way to enjoy a waterway and the significant role it plays in a community’s history and wellbeing.

The historic North River is now an afterthought to most Peabody residents. Glimpsed from cars traveling down Walnut Street, its historic importance and possibilities as a recreational opportunity are lost. But assembling the property lots necessary to create a walkway opens the door to welcoming the river back into daily life in Peabody with students studying the river’s history and ecosystem and residents enjoying it for recreational opportunities.

Torigian’s legacy still looms over Peabody because of the love the late mayor felt for Peabody and his ability to sketch out a vision for his city. His passion for the North River is reason enough for the city to proceed with riverwalk plans.

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