Although native son W.E.B. Du Bois first appealed to the citizens of Great Barrington in 1930 to clean up the Housatonic River, which had been despoiled by decades of toxic dumping, efforts to restore the polluted waterway weren’t undertaken until 1988. What began as a volunteer clean-up project resulted in the establishment of a half-mile greenway trail along the western bank of the river in the town’s center. Over the course of 25 years, community members have restored the riverbanks’ native vegetation and constructed a riverside pathway, designed by Peter S. Jensen. The landscape reclamation, overseen by horticulturalists Monica Fadding and Heather Cupo, replaced invasive species with native dogwood, ferns, willows and asters.
The pathway traverses private property, running behind commercial and residential buildings, and comprises two completed sections linked by River Street. The looped upstream section, first opened in 1992, terminates at the William Stanley Overlook. The downstream section includes the W.E.B. Du Bois River Garden, a park constructed in 2000 on a former trash heap, very near where Du Bois was born in 1868. The raised garden beds contain native woodland plants, while a berm is planted with sumac and native understory. The adjacent rain garden filters runoff and curbs erosion with native wetland plants, and the trail surface is permeable to further infiltrate rain water.
Managed by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy and now cared for by Greenagers, the Housatonic River Walk was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2009.