|By G. Michael Dobbs
This unidentified rower from the turn of the century is seen here on the Connecticut River in Springfield. The Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club is working to return rowing to the river with programs headquartered in the former Basset Boat Shop building.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
SPRINGFIELD One non-profit organization is pushing forward in its plan to bring rowing back to the Connecticut River and to create more use for the city's bike and walking path along the river.
Jonathan Moss, the president of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club (PVRC), explained last week during a tour of the former Basset Boat shop near the North End Bridge, the club is in the middle of renovations to the building.
Throughout the building, there was evidence of the work crews of students from Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy have been have been doing. Sculls, the long flat boats used in the sport, rest in storage racks.
Moss explained the goal was to make the building more suitable for use by teams and individuals. Doors that more readily accommodate the boats, a locker room and show facilities as well as an improved training area are part of the renovation plan.
Bringing back some of the original features of the building, which was built as the Rockrimmon Boat Club in 1901, is also intended, Moss explained.
The PVRC acquired the building from the city through a Request for Proposal process after the Bassett Boat Company had left, he said. Bassett had a long-term lease of the building that the city had owned since the 1930s. The club received the keys to the building last August and started renovations.
Moss said that Springfield has a rich history of rowing. The second Yale-Harvard race was on the Connecticut River in 1855. Over the next 20 years, more collegiate races were conducted here. Moss said the Rockrimmon Club reflected the Irish makeup of the North End at that time, while the Atlanta Boat Club in the South End.
Moss said the popularity of rowing in the city was affected by the two World Wars. At that time, it was a men's sport and the number of men serving in the military from the area made an impact on its popularity. During the 1950s and through the 1970s, there were high school teams rowing on the river, but Moss said another factor, the poor quality of the river water, also hurt the sport.
Speaking of the status of the river, Moss said, "We've come a long, long way."
The club has an active youth program, which Moss hopes will expand. He explained there are students from Central High School and the Renaissance School participating in the program as well as out-of-towners from Longmeadow, Wilbraham and Somers, Conn. He said that Harvard University donated three boats to help start the program.
The organization has been active in writing grants and seeking donations to renovate the building. Moss said one grant would purchase 24 rowing machines so rowers can practice indoors through the year. A dragon boat a larger boat has already been funded. MassMutual has donated half of the cost of a dock and part of the cost of the locker room has also been given.
"It's been very well received," Moss said of the expanded rowing program and renovations to the building.
Moss believes that having the facility at one end of the Connecticut River Walk and Bikeway will help encourage more people to use the path. His organization is collaborating with groups to plan activities on the path.
The club offers memberships and lessons in a wide variety of programs detailed on its website at www.pvrowing.org.
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