Environmental Planning students’ design for a Hoosic River recreation area in North Adams.

As it runs through North Adams, the Hoosic River flows through a concrete chute built decades ago for flood control. The chute obscures the view of the river, it is inhospitable to river organisms, and parts of it are starting to crumble. So for their Environmental Planning class last fall, four students designed a revitalized river recreation area.

For the projects undertaken in the course, including the Hoosic River revitalization, students “are functioning as a consulting team,” says Sarah Gardner, lecturer and associate director of Williams’ Center for Environmental Studies. “There’s no better way to learn to do professional-level work than this.”

For their project, Katie Aguila ’16, Caroline Beckman ’17, Miguel Méndez ’16 and Allison Rowe ’16 read case studies and researched the history of North Adams’ floodwalls and factories. They interviewed community stakeholders, including Hoosic River Revival Director Judith Grinnell, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson ’81.

Their final, 61-page report imagines a mixed-use public space called “The Duck” at the river’s north branch as it curves around the Mohawk Trail. It includes terraced steps around the river to retain flood water, beneficial plants for brook trout and other aquatic life, and a bike trail, orchard and playground. The students presented their plan at Hoosic River Revival’s annual board meeting. Though the organization is currently focused on a similar plan for the south branch of the river, Gardner says the students’ proposal provided the group with “inspiration for the next phase of their project.”

For their part, the students say they loved learning more about neighboring North Adams and working on a plan that incorporated what the community sees for its future. “There’s so much groundwork laid to establish where the city is going—so we could go there, too,” says Rowe.

—Francesca Shanks