Nancy Wallace, Fervent Savior of the Bronx River, Dies at 93

Nancy Wallace, who toiled tirelessly to clean up the only freshwater river that flows in New York City, the Bronx River, and reclaim it for recreation and as a natural habitat, died on Feb. 15 at her home in Marblehead, Mass. She was 93.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter Lane Wallace.

Living in White Plains, N.Y., in the 1980s, Mrs. Wallace galvanized a broad campaign to rescue the river, at the time an inaccessible 23-mile watercourse that was home to more flotsam, like the carcasses of junked cars and rusted refrigerators, than fauna.

The river is mostly tidal and brackish from East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx down to where Hunts Point meets the saltwater East River, but it is considered generally fresh as it flows south from its source near the Kensico Dam in Westchester County.

While “naturally fresh” is a phrase not typically associated with the Bronx, New York’s only borough on the American mainland is, in fact, home to Pelham Bay Park, the city’s largest, as well as the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo and the Hunts Point Produce Market — and a mostly freshwater river runs through it all.

A career educator and civic leader, Mrs. Wallace joined the board of the Bronx River Restoration in 1982. The following year, when the executive director left, she agreed to fill in temporarily. She held the job for 22 years, until she retired in 2006 — one year before biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Bronx reported a sighting of a beaver in the river for the first time in two centuries.

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