HOLYOKE — The Robert E. Barrett Fishway will be closed to the public for the 2024 season due to hydroelectric maintenance and infrastructure improvements, but Holyoke Gas & Electric is still encouraging the community to connect through different programs in lieu of fishway visits this spring.

The fish lift at HG&E’s Barrett Fishway helps migrating fish over the dam and was the first successful fish lift on the Atlantic coast. The two elevators, or lifts, carry migrating fish up and over the Holyoke Dam.

HG&E Director of Marketing and Communications Kate Sullivan Craven told Reminder Publishing while the public will be missed over the six weeks the fishway is typically open to the public for migration season, its rehabilitation was a natural process. Like other large hydroelectric generating facilities, HG&E’s units require complete disassembly and rehabilitation every 30-40 years which has led to this season’s closure.

“We can see like 10,000 visitors in certain years so it’s a big deal for people that they can’t come,” Sullivan Craven said.

The fishway’s Hadley Unit No. 2 will be under major rehabilitation for the first time since being originally commissioned in 1984. Naturally several components are nearing the end of their expected lifespan and need replacement. This enhancement will assist the department in delivering low-cost, reliable and carbon-free power.

“It’s one of our largest units,” Sullivan Craven said. “It’s a very typical kind of routine maintenance that we need to do.”

Fish passage operations will still continue throughout the duration of the project.
In the meantime, programming will still be ongoing through partnership with HG&E and Holyoke Heritage State Park in an educational program titled “Connecting with the Connecticut River.”

The interactive program will explore how the Connecticut River made Holyoke’s planned industrial format possible. Participants will visit the canal to see how the river and canals power Holyoke while learning about local wildlife and how migratory fish get a “lift” over the Holyoke dam.

“While HG&E will miss seeing visitors this spring at the fishway, rehabilitation of our generating infrastructure is critical to maintaining our local, carbon-free energy portfolio,” said Sullivan Craven. “We hope the public will benefit from this partnership with Heritage State Park, which combines Holyoke’s history and innovation, with education related to fish migration and local natural resources.”

Families and the general public are encouraged to check out the program as it will also serve as a unique history lesson of Holyoke’s roots as an industrial city and how the canal system has been used as a major asset of the city since its formation.

“It’s just so interesting to see how the city was constructed with three levels of canals and so it’ll give visitors who come every year juts a little bit of a different perspective on the entire hydro operation here in the city of Holyoke,” Sullivan Craven said. “It’s just going to be a nice connection to what we do at the fishway. Unfortunately, guests won’t be able to see fish but they can sign up for one of these programs and come learn a little about how Holyoke was established and how we’re continuing to use these natural resources to benefit the community.”

HG&E will also once again host the 57th annual Shad Derby over two weekends this spring. On May 11, 12, 18 and 19, the region’s anglers will fish the waters of the Connecticut River by the Holyoke Dam for the largest shad and compete for a grand prize of $1,000 cash for the first place winner in the senior division.

To learn more about and to participate in the program offerings this spring, visit hged.com/community-environment/barrett-fishway/default.aspx.

While the fishway will be closed for the 2024 season, Sullivan Craven said the partnership between HG&E and Heritage State Park is ready to make do with some fun and interesting events for the public.

“I think it’s a good way for us to share that we have this other opportunity, we’ll see them next year for sure,” she said.

dhackett@thereminder.com | + posts