Most Beaconites have spent a balmy afternoon or two down by the river, marveling at the billowing sails of the Clearwater or Woody Guthrie when the boats are docked here between trips on the Hudson. Some people have had the chance to tour the river during an educational trip.
But even if you’re unfamiliar with those vessels and the organization behind them, you know Clearwater’s work. The river wasn’t always safe to splash in: Clearwater played a pivotal role in getting it cleaned up. Next Thursday, May 11, Towne Crier Cafe will host a screening to raise funds for Clearwater’s next sail to Washington. Doors open at 6 pm, and tickets include a buffet dinner, music, speakers, and a screening of “Clearwater: Hope on the Hudson.” Tickets are available through the Towne Crier Cafe.
For centuries, the Hudson River provided food and recreation opportunities for nearby residents. As industrial development grew in the Northeast, factories and manufacturing plants looked to streams as an easy way to dispose of business waste products, which often included toxic heavy metals and debris. The streams carried the waste down to the Hudson River, where plants and animals bore the brunt of the pollution.
Starting in the mid-1960s, in conjunction with activism on many other fronts, people in communities along the Hudson River started agitating for its health. Pete Seeger, legendary banjo player, environmental cheerleader, and longtime Beacon resident, helped found the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization to provide a literal flagship for the movement. Seeger sailed the sloop to Washington, D.C., in 1970 to draw attention to the importance of clean waterways, not just in the Hudson River watershed, but everywhere.
Court battles over the past 40 years compelled the industrial giants to stop dumping chemicals, to clean up their messes, or make other types of environmental reparations. Much of that would not have been possible without the Clean Water Act of 1973, and it’s believed that Seeger’s 1970 sail helped that act become law.
Even Seeger acknowledged that individual actions can only go so far. Of the Clearwater’s 1970 visit to the U.S. capitol, he said: “Now we’re going to Washington because the problems of the American rivers can’t be solved by people like me who live on them. Only the Federal Government has the power to enact and enforce the laws that are needed.”
Since the Clean Water Act’s adoption and a cultural shift in environmental values over the past few decades, the Hudson River has been largely restored. It may not be pristine, but species that had taken a dive, like native mussels, are mounting a comeback. Mercury and PCB levels in some fish remain concerning but have fallen precipitously - definitely a step in the right direction! Boating, kayaking, and even bathing have become big recreational draws.
So, Clearwater’s fight continues. The sloop will again travel to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the importance of environmental regulations; they plan to set sail in June. Head out to Towne Crier next Thursday to catch up on the group’s legacy, hear from present-day movers and shakers, and support the future. Visit Clearwater for more information.