Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow – Our River Runs Through Them
"The river’s reflections of our lives and experiences are endless. The water calls up our own ambitions of flowing with ease, of navigating the unknown."
~ Tim Palmer, river conservationist
"We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon,
that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens
and fields, and we ask that they:
Teach us, and show us the way."
~ Chinook Indian blessing liturgy
No matter who you are or where you live, rivers have shaped your life. They are the most ancient of all highways and the shape of their banks of their bends and falls and the speed and power of their currents have dictated the locations of cities and fortifications, of roads and railways. Just a glimpse at the banks of the Hudson will tell you how this mighty river has influenced those of us who now live near it. And yet, as much as we understand about the impact of the Hudson on our lives, there still remains much we need to learn about it.
And that is one of the two tasks of The Beacon Institute of Rivers and Estuaries – to learn the secrets of the Hudson that have eluded us thus. The other task is to teach what they have already learned.
Progress and Teaching
Many look at the still deserted paper clip factory at the base of Dennings Point that is to be the heart of the Institute and think little or no progress has been made. Not so. Work on that building is not scheduled to begin until 2008. But much progress has been made on other fronts.
Restoration and updating on the old brickworks building on Dennings
Point nears completion and will be open to the public in the spring. It
will be a “green” building featuring geothermal heating and cooling,
solar panels, and sewer-less biocomposting toilets. This building will
provide the public with a variety of ways to learn more about the
Hudson and how it affects their daily lives. There will be interactive
exhibits, historical information, and lectures.
But that’s just the beginning.
The building will also house the Institute’s Learning Laboratory. The Lab is currently developing a K-12 teacher-training program that will help teachers develop new, river-based teaching programs. The planning has been in development for 18 months and has involved teachers from Beacon, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie as well as professionals from The Institute for Ecosystem Studies, the Estuary Management Program, and the sloop Clearwater.
Mastering the Hudson
The first program, Mastering the Hudson, offers students a chance to learn to organize complex projects by examining the Hudson River Watershed as it relates to science, ecology, history, culture, and policy. It covers a broad spectrum of disciplines and will meet New York State educations standards for social studies, math, science and technology, English language arts, career development, occupational studies, the arts, health, physical educations, and home economics. A pilot program for sixth grade teachers begins this spring and will be serving hundreds of teachers and thousands of students.
With the RiverCulture project, it’s all in the documentation. Started in the spring of 2005, this program explores the human connection to the Hudson by collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting documents related to the Hudson. It helps us to understand how the river has affected the people who live and work near it and the way those people have affected the river. The program has already had its first success with the publishing of Jim Heron’s book: The History of Dennings Point.
Oral History Project
As a part of RiverCulture, the Oral History Project’s goal is to collect and preserve spoken stories about the Hudson and the people whose lives were shaped by it – public and private figures, environmentalists, industrialists, fishermen, and artists – people who have observed and experienced the river through periods of tremendous change. This project, too, has already borne fruit, The Working Hudson: Voices of Commercial Fishermen, which documents the decline of commercial fishing on the river and the effects on the fishermen. They now have 70 oral histories and have received a $40,000 grant to develop a multimedia exhibit with online and traveling components.
Documenting Power Plants
While currently in the planning stages, this ambitious project will explore the complex issues of our need for power, the Hudson’s ability to contribute to that need, and the consequences, real and imagined, of those contributions. It is an ongoing problem that has created much heat and thunder in the press and this project will seek to give a balanced forum for all concerned. The Institute has made its extensive collection of documents and source material available to faculty and students at Marist College who are participating in the project.
Finally, there is the aspect of the Institute that people are most familiar with – Riverscope. Although renovations have yet to begin on the old paperclip factory that will serve as its scientific hub, the people involved with Riverscope have not been idle. They are currently involved in working with scientists from Wood’s Hole, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Columbia University, and Pace University in placing advanced wireless monitoring sensors in the Hudson that will provide instant data on water chemistry, biological variables, living organisms, and many more measurements throughout the entire Hudson estuary.
“Most of this kind of work is going on out in the ocean environment, the deep ocean,” said John Cronin, former Hudson Riverkeeper and now head of the Institute. “Generally speaking, it’s not being done on rivers and estuaries, but since that’s where humans and nature meet so closely, that’s why this kind of work is such a vital part of our mission. Imagine 500 of them [sensors] distributed from the Troy dam to the mouth of the river. It would collect massive amounts of data, but when you put it together mile-point by mile-point, you start getting a three-dimensional – actually four when you include time – picture of how the estuary is operating.”
So The Beacon Rivers and Estuaries Institute is already contributing to our community in more ways than most people knew.