“My job today” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper boat captain, “is to help us see the River in a different way than before.” And so began our great adventure as ten of us gathered Thursday, June 7 at Westerly Marina in Ossining to spend time on the Riverkeeper boat and get to know the River but also to try to understand the connection between the River, the environment and humans in light of the charism of charity. As we motored slowly down to the Tappan Zee Bridge, with Sing Sing Prison, the Sewage Treatment Plant and tracks of Metro North to the east and the beauty of the Palisades and Hook Mountain to the west, John raised several other questions: How much has the River had to give to support the economy of New York City and surrounding region?; How much is enough?; How much longer will the River be able to support us? John hoped that by the end of the day, we would be able to answer these questions with greater knowledge, clarity and wisdom and perhaps, be moved to be a voice for the River, who is not able to speak for itself.
Over a year ago Sr. Mary Lou McGrath, SC, Coordinator of Volunteers for the Sisters of Charity and Carol De Angelo, SC began to talk about the possibility of Charity in the City volunteers having a Hudson River experience to increase awareness of how the Hudson River and its communities of life are vulnerable and threatened and how humans living in the region are ultimately affected.
This year’s Charity in the City ten day program did not materialize yet we kept the Riverkeeper boat trip on the calendar. In addition to Mary Lou and Carol, others privileged to be onboard were: LeeAnn Brathwait , CMSV Junior and Nizarys Vargas, 2012 CMSV graduate who were part of last year’s Charity in the City; Sr. Eyvleen Larkin, SC with her friends, Kristin Eliza Sigurdsson, 19 year old student at FIT, and her mother, Andrea; Sr. Mary Ellen McGovern, SC and Ellen Mihovics, mother of Shana who was called to work at the last minute. Shana, a volunteer from last year’s Charity in the City, is interning this summer for an environmental group. Robert Friedman, John’s assistant, was also on board.
How to put into words the insights, new ways of seeing, new understanding that came during the three hours we were on board?
We saw the east shoreline of the Hudson from the River’s viewpoint – miles of railroad track with occasional culverts (narrow openings that allow the flow of water from River to the shallow water habitats behind the tracks and back). We learned that these shallow water habitats are critical nurseries for fish and other water life, as well as valuable parts of the ecosystem. Increasing the size of the culverts and designing them with pilings instead of solid walls would increase health of River and thus impact all of us positively. So why not build in a more environmentally friendly way?
The major focus of our trip was the 50 year old Tappan Zee Bridge and the current plans underway to replace it. Two alternatives have been offered: build one or two new bridges (eight or twelve lanes) or do nothing. Hudson Riverkeeper, as advocate for the River, is working closely with many groups to make the planning and decision process as democratic, transparent and environmentally safe as possible. Riverkeeper is raising questions about the current process. For example, let the public see the research that has been down on building a tunnel (which is more environmentally safe) yet has not been offered as an alternative. For a more thorough understanding of this issue and the research that Riverkeeper has done, please go to their website: www.riverkeeper.org
John was very clear that the Tappan Zee Bridge issue is the greatest threat to face the Hudson River since the last Ice Age. The projected five year phase of bringing in large equipment, the violence of digging pilings in the river and the noise involved will severely threaten many species of fish who swim up river and travel through the area each year to spawn. In many ways John’s statement, “The River should not subsidize human needs again of this magnitude” was a wakeup call for us. How will we choose to respond? Perhaps, our time on the river has shown us the importance of time to be with and listen to the River – to come to know its story and how its story is intimately connected to our story. At the end of the trip, Ellen voiced her gratitude to John for his being a passionate voice for the River. Perhaps, we too in our own unique way can be a voice for the River, which is a voice for life, and a voice on behalf of future generations that they might know the beauty and fullness of life as we do.
Hopefully the words of each participant (below) will give additional flavor and taste to our great adventure.
Mary Ellen McGovern, SC, says of her experience, “Thank you for the memorable "Riverkeeper" experience. I'm still trying to process the immeasurable amount of new learning. There are so many impressions; it's difficult to come up with just one. John's loving personal relationship with the River is phenomenal. I wish resources were available to afford everyone the opportunity to foster a loving relationship with Mother Nature. Unless we cultivate a personal relationship with her, it's not likely we will love and protect her as lovingly as John and Rob. The Riverkeeper experience has moved me to nurture my own relationship with nature.”
Sr. Evyleen Larkin, SC, says, “In our Riverkeeper, John Lipscomb, we have a man with a life purpose; he has a vision of enhanced life in the Hudson River with on-going plans to effect this – to change the downward momentum.”
Ellen Mihovics, a parent of one of last year’s Charity in the City” volunteers, says, "If I were a river, I would feel very confident with John Lipscomb as my voice. Over the years, like many others, I have been frustrated reading about the PCBs and other offenses committed against the Hudson. I knew of the fine work of Riverkeeper but my knowledge was just through what I might read in the media. To be in the company of the guardian of the Hudson River and hear the facts presented firsthand from someone so knowledgeable and so impassioned about protecting this majestic body of water was a great experience. It was a day of alarm...and hope, all in one."
Nizarys Vargas, who graduated from the College of Mt. St. Vincent this year, “It was truly an insightful experience. I stare out to the river all the time and would have never guessed the condition that is in. The Riverkeeper does a wonderful job in making these issues known and hopefully through this program, many more people will recognize and come to the aid of the river."
Sr. Mary Lou McGrath writes, “I feel so eternally grateful for the way our planet Earth continues to nourish and please us, sometimes under terrible stress and with forgiving pain that we inflict on her. I will be forever mindful of the current issues that impact the Hudson River and will do my best to speak for this gift of beauty.”
LeeAnn Brathwaite, a junior at Mt. St. Vincent College, says, "The Hudson has given so much to the formation of New York but has suffered greatly. Organizations like Riverkeeper work to inform citizens and politicians alike of the repercussions of our actions on the environment."
Click for the Riverkeeper Boat Trip Photo Gallery »