Could eco-sloop, Pier 40 make sweet music together?


By Chris Gaylord

The Gulf oil disaster is just…so…depressing. And there’s the inland spread of the Tea Party. It’s enough to make me want to double up on therapy sessions, cardio kickboxing and mojitos. I thought of packing a long novel and heading to the beach, but I’m afraid the oil may follow me there.

However, I’ve just received an invitation to an event that could potentially help clean up the big mess, prevent future disasters and make me feel better. So I’m going to check out Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival Festival. All proceeds from the two-day event support Clearwater’s environmental organization and programs.

The sloop Clearwater, with its giant mainsail and known for its history of Hudson River activism, is a familiar sight in the harbor. Building on the popularity of its sailing and educational programs, solid science and success as an advocacy group, the Clearwater organization is embarked on ambitious plans to make the Hudson River Valley a spawning ground for the next generation of environmental activists and scientists.

By providing children and teens with education while hoisting sails and checking oyster beds, the program provides fundamental tools, knowledge and inspiration to launch careers for those who will eventually migrate into the world and deal with the messes of their forebears.

Forty years after banjo-playing, folk-singing Pete Seeger launched Clearwater, the Hudson River, once dead and unable to support marine life, has returned to relative health and continues to improve: Demonstrations marched, petitions circulated, lawsuits were filed, science was applied, polluters shut down, and new laws were created.

The future is coming into the hands of a new generation, and they might be the eco-geeks and bold decision-makers so desperately needed.

Through that lens, it’s possible to see how a ticket to Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Festival, on June 19 and 20, is a way to act locally while thinking globally; a small way to help grow a solution, instead of pollution. Why should Tea Partiers have all the fun this summer?

The festival offers 250 performers on seven solar-powered stages. Other activities and entertainment includes tall ship sails, small boat rides, kayaking, a Green-Living Expo, crafts show, Fair Trade Marketplace, eco-education tent, Activist Convention Center, puppet theater shows, dancers, jugglers and clowns.

All of this will be happening at Croton Point Park, which is worth a visit even without a festival: 500 acres on the largest peninsula in the river, with sweeping views of the Hudson Highlands. Tickets: $65 in advance (per day) $80 at the gate, with discount packages available for both days and weekend campers.

I recently had a conversation with Jeff Rumpf, Clearwater executive director, and broached the idea of a berth for Clearwater at Pier 40, at West Houston St., in the Hudson River Park.

CG: I saw the sloop out on the river the other day. I was standing on Pier 40, do you know it?

JR: Sure, it’s massive, can’t miss it when we’re sailing by. I’ve gone kayaking there.

CG: Over the past eight years, the community has opposed several commercial developments on the pier. With community boating facilities and all the kids playing sports at Pier 40 already, Clearwater would seem a natural fit. Would Clearwater be interested in docking there, perhaps with a permanent berth, and maybe an educational center?

JR: That’s very interesting. Our organization is committed to having a major presence in New York City. There is huge demand for our programs in the city. You have all these kids from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, all living in a waterfront city and they barely know it. They haven’t really gotten the benefit of it. What we found is, when we get kids on the river, they look at their entire city in a different way. They look at it as part of an ecosystem, they understand the science, they understand where their waste goes, and the lessons taught on the sloop in New York City are spectacular. You have oyster gardens out there and they’re catching fish, and learning about ecology and they relate it directly to their communities.

We’re working with groups now in New York City to bring in thousands on thousands more young people. The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance did a survey of stakeholders in communities bordering the river, and one thing people felt could really change New York City for the better is if every kid was educated on the river. Just changing the way they look at their city would affect how it develops in the future.

Something we’re considering — this is kind of breaking news — is Clearwater NYC, a new vessel, to join the two we already have, and it would be based in the city.

We do music, we do festivals, we do events, and to potentially have a centralized location in the heart of it all, community-oriented, would be of interest to us.

CG: One of the major issues at the pier is economics.

JR: We know from our experience up and down the river that we bring economic stimulus with Clearwater and the Mystic Whaler and our programs. People come just to see it, to experience it, to be part of something that launched the environmental movement, but that also represents the history and legacy of New York Harbor. So wherever we set this base up, we think there should be symbolism around it, and there should be music around it.

The future that Mayor Bloomberg is talking about, and many other people at all different levels, is a green city, and if you want a green city, you need to get people to care about a green city with projects like this.

There’s a new paradigm: It’s not business versus the environment, it’s business and the environment. We need to put the “eco” into the economy. Economies should be about that circle and having it all connect together in a positive way. So the idea of doing something on that dock where tourism and learning about ecology, healthy foods, organic agriculture, solar energy, recycling and new business models that are beginning to emerge, combined with music and community events is something we live and breathe at Clearwater.

What we wouldn’t be interested in is being a developer; we’re the exact opposite. We’re not interested in owning a pier or making money for its own sake. What we’re interested in is, first, having as many young people as possible coming to our program and, second, being adjacent to many community groups to create a synergy of interests that can lead to new economies and opportunities. We’ve spent a lot of time studying how to incubate new initiatives, and every model tells us adjacencies and densities are important factors in success.

Our job is not to get involved in the politics. Our job is to say, “What could we do to help?” So if your community creates a community-based dock and you wanted to have somebody there that would operate out of that site, we would be very valuable for all groups involved. We’re always looking for synergy. I think it’s a great idea.

CG: So, just to be sure, may I quote you as saying Clearwater would be interested in partnering to create a berth, home base and educational center at Pier 40?

JR: O.K., yes. As an organization, our board has decided that down the road, as we have the ability, we are committed to serving many more inner-city kids. We believe in a concept of the green city that comes from the people, and from among the diversity of the people, as solving most problems in a way that is much better than top-down decision-making. Our goal is to have armies of young people that think that way. That’s what’s needed now. We need community organizations, and community newspapers, to invest in creating our future.

CG: You keep mentioning music, understandably, given Pete and the festival. Have you ever thought of expanding the revival to other locations? The reason I ask is because the center area of Pier 40 is a gigantic sports field that seems like a natural venue.

JR: How many people could you fit in there?

CG: Thousands.

JR: Really? That’s maybe another “Ah-ha!” moment. One of the things we’re looking for is to do a festival, a big concert like we had at Madison Square Garden for Pete’s 90th birthday, and have the community benefit and for it to potentially be a way to fund scholarships for kids.

Very often, it’s music that gets things started. So if you have a concert, get people there, you have the Clearwater and the Mystic Whaler on the dock… . I think you have something there. These are good ideas. We’d love to come down and visit, and just say, “What do you guys want to do?”

CG: How’s Pete?

JR: Pete’s great. He’s as involved with Clearwater as ever. He also spends a lot of time with school kids in Beacon, singing and teaching music.