The healthier Naugatuck River promotes wildlife and recreation

TORRINGTON – On the banks of the Naugatuck River on Franklin Street, a brave duck named Clarence occasionally eats from the hand of Brian Corringham.

“He did it several days in a row last summer,” said Corringham, a Long Island native who now lives near the Naugatuck River here. Of the hundreds of ducks he fed daily from a coffee tin full of cracked corn, only Clarence, a loner without tail feathers, dared to approach him.

“They are wild animals,” Corringham said. “They talk, they cluck when they’re excited. It’s a happy gurgle. I read that somewhere. I feed them, and they’re happy.”

Several species of ducks and other waterfowl feed and nest near the river. Native and stocked fish, wood turtles, eels and other aquatic creatures inhabit the stream that joins the Housatonic River at Derby. It is the only major river that is contained entirely within Connecticut’s borders, according to

The Naugatuck River has seen a remarkable recovery in the past half century. It still has a ways to go, and recent events are encouraging for environmentalists.

Between Torrington and Derby, the river drops 540 feet, which is about 13 feet per mile. “The river’s size and steep gradient made it ideal for hydroelectric development, causing a surge in industrial development in the 1700s and 1800s,” the site says. “Unfortunately, centuries of industrial abuse left the river essentially lifeless for most of the 20th century, making it among the most polluted rivers in the country.”

But citizen groups and actions by Connecticut changed the course of events. As the site further states, “The adoption of Connecticut’s Clean Water Act in 1967 and the adoption of the federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972 gave the state the legal authority necessary to definitively address the river’s declining water quality. By 1976, … all of the stations The eight municipal wastewater treatment plants (sewage treatment plants) that discharge into the Naugatuck River have installed secondary waste treatment.”

Cleaning up the contamination was just part of the problem. Dams along the river still prevent fish from swimming upriver to spawn. Many unused dams have been destroyed, and fish ladders have been erected, but Seymour’s Kintown Dam remains a barrier, according to Save the Sound and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, which represents 19 municipalities along the river.

In a mid-December 2022 issue, NVCOG announced that $15 million was saved from the Fish Corridor Restoration Grant Program through NOAA barrier removal. The money is intended to remove the Kennettown Dam, which is owned by HydroLand, an offline hydroelectric facility.

“A big part of removing this dam comes from focusing on migratory species coming in from the ocean,” said Nate Nardi Cyrus, Torrington’s assistant city planner. “So, things like herring, shad, those things that would be more downstream. They don’t jump very well, so it’s not like a salmon situation where they’re flying over waterfalls.”

He said the eel is one species that would benefit from Removing barriers such as the Kinetown Dam. “They’re a fairly vulnerable species and they’re actually quite unlike salmon or shad. They spawn in the ocean, and then they ride the currents like these little eels.” Only about 10 percent made it past the barriers, he said, but they are so many that some have been noticed in Torrington. They live to adulthood, then return to the ocean to pupate and die, he said.

Nate Nardi Cyrus, Torrington's Assistant City Planner, and Head of Spinners came up with the office.

Nate Nardi Cyrus, Torrington’s Assistant City Planner, and Head of Spinners came up with the office.

Jack Sheedy / Hearst Connecticut Media

The river’s renaissance has also given birth to the Naugatuck River Greenway, a collaborative project among river communities to encourage hiking and biking along the river. “The Green Road end in Torrington, and it runs all the way to Derby,” he said. The Torrington section begins at Franklin Street and will eventually reach Bogue Road, where, he said, Litchfield will take over.

He said the return of the waterfowl is also a success story. “I remember I had a professor of wildlife when I was in school not long ago, like 10 years ago. And, you know, he said as a little kid, seeing a flock of geese was like, you’ve never seen them. It was a highlight.”

Brian Corringham took a break from feeding Clarence and other ducks and pointed out several businesses near Franklin Plaza. “It’s good for people who come here to visit companies to know that this is a kind of nature reserve here. Yes, it’s not just an ancient river. It’s really a nature reserve.”

Canadian geese cackled, and a hundred ducks cackled, seemingly in agreement.

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