“The time is now or we will not, I fear, have a future for the
human race.” Pete Seeger
Originating at Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains, the Hudson River
spans 315 miles, eventually draining into the Atlantic Ocean, between New York City and New Jersey. Named after the Dutch explorer, Henry Hudson, the Hudson River remains the region’s greatest natural resource. The lower tidal estuary of the Hudson was formed during the most recent period of North American glaciation, however by the mid 20th century, the river was nearly dead. The Hudson was polluted severely with raw sewage, oil spillages, and toxic chemicals. Most discussed was General Electric’s contamination of the river, due to the estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) dumped in the river between 1947 and 1977 . The synthetic, organic chloride compound became embedded in the riverbed causing a range of detrimental effects for wildlife and people who drank and eat fish from the river.
In the Hudson River’s most dire state, legendary singer, songwriter, folklorist,
environmentalist, and peace advocate, Pete Seeger launched the sloop Clearwater in 1969.
Seeger’s mission was simple, “build a boat to save the river.” The sloop Clearwater is a 106 foot long replica of the Dutch vessels that sailed the Hudson throughout the 18th and 19th century. These vessels were specially designed to account for the turbulent winds, currents, and depths of the Hudson. They sailed from river town to river town, serving as the primary means of transportation and communication within the region. Today the Clearwater models her route after the historic Dutch sloops, allowing for environmental education and advocacy in the Hudson River Valley. Other than the Clearwater’s ability to bring people to the river and experience its tremendous beauty, Seeger’s Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. has partnered with Hudson River Valley schools and community leaders in order to continue environmental progress. The Clearwater’s education programs include the Sailing Classroom Program, Tideline Programs, Aquatic Invasive Species Program, Youth Empowerment Programs, and countless on deck volunteer opportunities for all ages.
Clearwater is recognized as the United States flagship in environmental advocacy and
sciencebasededucation. The Clearwater gained national recognition as it forced General
Electric’s hand as well as other riverfront companies in the removal of PCB’s from the riverbed.The Clearwater has become a rallying point and shining example for antipollution
efforts throughout the world. Clearwater activism continues in the lower portion of the river addressing watershed issues such as pesticide runoff, the Manhattan west side waterfront, Indian Point nuclear reactors, and New York/New Jersey Harbor dredge spoil disposal. In 2002, Seeger was the leading voice in the passage of the Clean Water Act, one of the United States most successful environmental laws. In 2004, the sloop Clearwater was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the environmental movement. Today, after carrying over half a million passengers for over 50 years, the sloop Clearwater must undergo a massive, US Coast Guard mandated restoration. Though Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014 at the age of 94, his legacy as a musician and environmental activist remains steadfast. Hopefully the sloop Clearwater will be back on the river shortly, continuing to spread her invaluable message.
By John Brennan