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the same river twice?

June 11, 2012

The confluence of the east and west branches of the Housatonic River at Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield marks the end of the cleanup of the first two miles of the river. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)


One of the difficulties I anticipate enduring in the attempt to promote my upcoming (Beacon Press, Spring 2013) book about the Clark Fork river restoration in Montana can be boiled down to a question I recently heard yet again, almost verbatim, for what must be the hundredth time in this process: so, who’s the market for a book like that?

I’m not a huge fan of the question. People who read, I always want to say, though I never do.

I know who I think might be interested, if they can be convinced to give the thing a look: people who are interested in Montana, or in rivers, or in fish, or in people. People who have experienced disappointment. People who had or have dreams. People with parents. People who care about place. People who have been screwed over. People who have screwed other people over.

But one incredibly obvious demographic has so far escaped my concise articulation, and that is people who have watched the same story unfold in their own backyard. And that turns out to be an awful lot of people. There are close to 1,500 Superfund sites across the United States, many of them involving waterways. To varying degrees, and with varying success, many are being restored, just like the Clark Fork river—though at nothing close to its scale—that’s at the heart of my Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape.

To illustrate the point, here’s an article in Pittsfield, MS’s Berkshire Eagle about the ongoing restoration of the Housatonic River, a $100 million cleanup of PCB contamination in the wake of a defunct General Electric transformer plant.

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