City of Water Day 2016 Memories

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HarborLAB’s open paddling program at Governors Island. 

 

HarborLAB was again privileged to provide the public paddling session for the Governors Island centerpiece of City of Water Day. It’s a lot of work, but a joyful service for us. City of Water Day is produced by Waterfront Alliance and is our region’s largest annual harbor festival. Our founder also initiated in 2007 what became City of Water Day, originally called the Five Borough Harbor Ramble. We’re thrilled with how Waterfront Alliance has grown and managed the event, which is a gift to thousands of New Yorkers and visitors.

In just a few hours we introduced 150 people to our estuary! Our crew included a new volunteer who’s a pediatric emergency registered nurse; a professional instructor from Prime Paddlesports; and longstanding volunteers with Red Cross adult and pediatric certification in Basic Water Rescue, AED, CPR, and First Aid.

Our education table, below, was also busy with queries about local waters, wildlife, our seed ball program, and displays that included a mushroom alternative to expanded polystyrene (more commonly referred to by the trademark, Styrofoam).  We’re lucky that so many of our volunteer educators are professionals with the NYC Department of Education, American Museum of Natural History, and other great organizations.

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HarborLAB’s education table on Governors Island. 

Our crew was all smiles but the enterprise required an organizational backbone. For every peal of laughter there was a spreadsheet.

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Please enjoy the gallery by Erik Baard and Ray Tan below.

Con Ed Cardboard Kayak Race

 

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HarborLAB receives the award for “Fastest Sinker.”

The summer raced by, but not so fast as HarborLAB’s entrant into the annual Con Ed Cardboard Kayak Race sank. Again…

Yes, for the second year running, HarborLAB’s boat sank faster than any competitor at the event, which is a central attraction of City of Water Day on Governors Island, produced by Waterfront Alliance. The event itself is sponsored by, of course, Con Ed. We’ve raced only twice, but we believe we’re pushing the outer limits of human ability and the laws of physics in how fast a boat can go under without excluding a hull altogether. Boats afire have lasted longer than ours. But our team is also doubtless quickest to smile and laugh, and to help others. We fellow volunteers feel like winners to have such company!  :)

Our team was captained by student Shinjie Lim, with Alessandro Byther heading up the impromptu design. About a half-dozen volunteers participated in the building of what became a somewhat top-heavy water dragon. About an equal number of HarborLAB volunteers were assigned to water safety and dock duty, which we provide each year along with paddles and life vests for each of the competitors. Fortunately “rescues” more often amounted to dragging soggy wrecks back to the dock while their crews swam ahead laughingly. The nanosecond sinking of HarborLAB’s dragon ensured impartiality for the duration of the race, which consisted of several heats. The winners were again the Steven’s Institute of Technology.

See one team go under:

Before all the racing zaniness HarborLAB volunteers enjoyed a terrific day of educating at our table, providing free kayaking to the public, and paddling our Tule-Tankwa, a reed boat that we built with high school students (see earlier posts).

Voyage of the Tule-Tankwa!

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How’s paddling a reed boat to Governors Island for arriving in style at City of Water Day?

This summer HarborLAB worked with the International High School at CUNY LaGuardia Community College  to build a boat made of an invasive variety phragmites, a species of marsh reed. Volunteers and the recent-immigrant students bound the dried reeds with natural jute twine and we waterproofed the hull with coconut oil (a Vietnamese practice with bamboo boats) for a fully biodegradable boat. The reeds were harvested from Alley Pond Park with permission from the Natural Resources Group of the NYC Department of Parks and recreation. Diana Szatkowski, PhD, an anthropologist and HarborLAB volunteer, provided academic guidance and research readings to the high school students engaged with the project, and helped build the boat as well.

Our design inspirations were blended. The papyrus tankwa boat of Ethiopia started us off, but we drew heavily from North America’s ancient tule boats too. Given the choppiness and open water crossings of New York Harbor, we made the boat longer and narrower for steadier navigation. In the end our skinny sit-on-top craft was like a slow, reed surfski. Executive Director Erik Baard conceived of the project and oversaw it.

Our educational goals were to teach about:

  • Estuary marshes.
  • Invasive species and native habitat.
  • Our shared, global maritime heritage.
  • Team building.
  • Renewable materials.
  • Research methodology.

 

HarborLAB volunteer and CUNY Start Director Thomas Dieter had the privilege of paddling the Tule-Tankwa the most, including its launch and heroic landing at Governors Island. Not only was he our best strength-to-weight ratio paddler, but he also worked on it with Erik until 3am the night before City of Water Day. Our launch was scheduled for early morning. Other builders and harvesters included Katherine Bradford and Greg Leopold (and their granddaughters), Dorothy Morehead, and Patricia Erickson. Matthew Kane of Prime Paddlesports also took a turn, and shared towing duties in high traffic areas and the final crossing, so as to not give the US Coast Guard a heart attack.

We put the Tule-Tankwa on display at Governors Island’s Pier 101, the hub of City of Water Day. We playfully invited the Coast Guard Auxiliary unit to inspect it. Many visitors delighted in the boat and ask us questions. A thunderstorm prevented our paddling the Tule-Tankwa back, so the HarborLAB crew for City of Water Day had to improvise. We carried it to the top of a staircase and rolled it from a wall to the top of our trailer. We might expand the boat, or simply inter it with honors in our waterfront native planting berm. All seeds were removed to prevent the spread of phragmites.

 

 

Deaf Community Paddle and ParaHarbor

 

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HarborLAB volunteers Dylan Geil and Thomas Dieter generously took time out from the mad rush of their nuptial preparations to conduct a kayak tour for the deaf community on Saturday. The two Hunters Point South residents are to be wed on August 28! Such kindness comes naturally to them, as they’ve both chosen careers in service to others. Dylan is an American Sign Language interpreter and Thomas directs the CUNY Start academic preparation program at LaGuardia Community College.

This special tour is just the start of another aspect of HarborLAB’s happily growing work for inclusion. We already have a proven commitment to serving communities from underrepresented cultures in our harbor and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) studies and our Instruction for Inclusion program sponsored by TF Cornerstone will expand on that. We are additionally pursuing our ParaHarbor (para = Paddling and Rowing Access) vision of adaptive boating to include people with a great range of abilities in the educational and recreational benefits of time on the water.  Our first major goal is to ensure that the new boathouse slated to be part of the Hunters Point South development will be fully and seamlessly inclusive of wheelchair users.

“The Deaf Community Paddle demonstrates HarborLAB’s commitment to be an accessible and inclusive organization. Having an ADA compliant boathouse at Hunters Point South would grant New Yorker’s with physical disabilities access to the waterways,” said Dylan. For Dylan and Thomas, this kayak tour reflects their love. “Thomas and I are getting married next weekend! When I first met Thomas, almost 6 years ago, he didn’t know a lick of American Sign Language. Now he holds his own with our friends! This paddle is just one example of how Thomas and I have grown together throughout our relationship,” said Dylan.

Saturday’s trip received wonderful coverage from NY1 News and we’ll continue to invite the press to be part of our education and advocacy work for inclusion.

 

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NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCDEC) issued a request for proposals for Hunters Point South parcels F and G that includes a boathouse. Responses are due September 4, 2016. Hunters Point South Park’s expansion has a boat launch mapped in near 2nd Street in LIC, the eastern end of the Hunters Point South affordable housing development.

HarborLAB has shared with a host of agencies and developers bidding to build on the site that the Hunters Point South boathouse will be a unique opportunity to create a boating and paddleboard experience for wheelchair users that’s seamlessly accessible, “from the river to the room.” We’re happy to report that the NYCDEC informed us that thanks to our queries, the NYCEDC, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, NYC Parks, and soon Housing, Preservation, and Development are discussing how to make this happen.

To be clear, this premier Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, fully accessible Hunters Point South boathouse would include a wheelchair-friendly slope from the water to the boathouse; accessible bathrooms and shower; accessible community space (for desktop laboratory equipment, lectures, etc.); and devices/infrastructure as might be needed to aid in boarding and exiting boats for unmatched service.

HarborLAB volunteers felt we needed to get all parties on the same page to ensure that the wheelchair user’s experience flows as naturally as the pedestrian’s. The NYCEDC thanked us for our advocacy to get that process moving. Some might recall that our founding volunteers, through their earlier affiliations, are the ones who proposed and successfully lobbied for the City to include a launch and boathouse in its plans, starting in 2004. HarborLAB is one of several groups hoping to activate the promised boathouse space, but regardless of who is chosen we view this process as an opportunity to fulfill our mission of inclusive access to our harbor and watershed.

 

 

“This week’s Deaf Community Paddle will be an excellent opportunity for us to further HarborLAB’s commitment to accessibility in its many forms,” Thomas said. “Having a permanent, ADA accessible boathouse in Hunters Point South would help make our commitment to accessibility all the more concrete. Our deaf community paddle symbolizes so much of what I love about what Dylan and I share in our relationship: nature, adventure, learning, friends, and service. We love being part of the HarborLAB family!”

Another Great Gantry Day!

 

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HarborLAB hosted another Harbor Camp day at Gantry Plaza State Park in Hunters Point with kids from East Harlem. We serve kids from all over NYC, introduced to us Waterfront Alliance and with permission from the New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

The kids splashed, learned to paddle, and left with copies of children’s environmental literature about saltwater fish and the importance of streams.

A huge thanks to our volunteer team: Tito Alvarado, Patricia Vidals-Aquino, Erik Baard, Irina Elhendy, Rich Furlong, Gil Lopez, Arturo Vicen-Vera, and to Patricia Menje Erickson for lending her van. What fun and camaraderie!

Our final Harbor Camp Day for 2016 will be on Tuesday, August 23. Come help make it a great success! To volunteer, please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “Harbor Camp at Gantry.”

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Night Circumnavigation of Manhattan!

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Cruising with the current at Midtown.

 

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The gilt waters of Inwood. Zeus was our constant companion.

 

HarborLAB volunteers and future volunteers enjoyed an amazing night paddle circling the island of Manhattan. HarborLAB volunteers pioneered night circumnavigation public tours through our earlier affiliations, and others have skeptically and then joyfully followed suit. We launched at 5pm Saturday, August 13 and returned 4AM, Sunday, August 14. The outing was free, with guests committing to volunteer for at least one of our children’s programs as payment. If you ask us, though, getting kids onto the water — and learning — is immeasurably fun anyway! If you’d like to help out, email us at volunteer@harborlab.org anytime!

Our stated goal was to see the Perseid meteor shower, and maybe some bioluminesent comb jellies or dinoflagellates. Scratch on both counts. But we did have a fantabulous natural light show! True to the story of Persues, Zeus announced his presence by casting lightning all along the distantly encircling horizon and descending to us, from the George Washington Bridge’s span lights, in a rain of gold as he did Danaë. The moon too was golden, and our rocking kayak moon dance was to the eclectic mix of music pouring into the river from the shores of four boroughs. Volunteer Scott Wolpow had indeed predicted “a little ol’ convoy Rockin‘ through the night.”

The Perseids are chunks of the Comet Swift-Tuttle careening into our upper atmosphere. More about that in our coming winter “Water in Space” talk. Ancient Greeks saw the friction flares — or shooting stars — as “sons of Perseus,” a heroic demi-god born of beautiful Danaë after Zeus’ visit. We’re happy to report that King Acrisius didn’t cast us adrift in a wooden chest. Instead we paddled with favorable tidal currents for nearly-30 miles on our sit-on-top kayaks. Not to hubristically compete with Zeus, but we even did a bit of our own seeding, stabilizing a little beach in Inwood with native pokeweed seedballs. We made the seedballs with Hunters Point Community Middle School students. The flowers and fruits of this bushy and hardy plant are a very important food source for birds and beneficial insects.

Despite the brutal heat, the crew was in great spirits. Perhaps none was more bubbly than regular volunteer Steven “Chubie” Chu, who embarked on his first circumnavigation with marked enthusiasm. Because the sky was so silent throughout the night, Chubie courteously provided the distant lightning with “Star Wars” laser gun sound effects. Well, before the unfortunate incident when Chubie was run over by cars on the Harlem River.  :)

We are reaching our to meteorologists about the strangely silent and continuous lightning that lasted through the night. Was it a distant cousin of Catatumbo lightning?

Enjoy the galleries below. Photos by Erik Baard and Steven Chu.

Newtown Creek and East River. Chubie caught a Pokeman while paddling!?!?!

After a safety talk, we set out past the tip of Hunters Point South and up the LIC waterfront with a peaking and diminishing flood current. We crossed to the Roosevelt Island side to skirt the security zone around the Ravenwood power plant (aka “Big Allis”) while also avoiding the buoy marking underwater turbines.

The quietude of the Harlem River.

This stretch is usually the most peaceful. We encountered numerous jetskiers but all were courteous and slowed down when passing us. Motorized personal watercraft must be off the water in NYC at dusk, so a hush eventually descended on the Harlem River. This peace was occasionally injected with new energy by the music of street parties and park barbecues, or even trains and cars passing overhead along low bridges. We rested on the dock of the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse at Swindlers Cove, operated by Row New York in an agreement with New York Restoration Project and NYC Parks.

George Washington Bridge.

This bridge doesn’t receive much love compared to our more famous East River connectors, but every New Yorker should have the experience of passing beneath it at night. An hour or two after sunset we finally cast off the heat of the day by rafting our boats together and taking turns dipping into the Hudson River for refreshing swims. The ebb was still weak and we had a headwind after the bridge, but our lookout and marine radio monitoring showed no large vessel traffic, so we edged toward the red buoy markers to eek out some advantage in the slowly burgeoning current.

Midtown and the Battery. 

Landing at the 79th Street Boat Basin was potentially tricky on a swift current in the dark because of post-Sandy reconstruction and a field of mooring balls, but it went smoothly. After resting we hopped back onto that ebb, which had grown powerful beneath our hulls. The air had stilled. Passing the USS Intrepid on glassy water greatly encouraged the crew. We were ahead of schedule! Now skyline lights replaced music over the inky ripples. Tug and ferry captains kindly relayed our occasional position announcements on the marine radio (the “bridge-to-bridge” open channel 13) as we passed through one of the harbor’s densest traffic knots. We held back for a Staten Island Ferry landing as it neared 2AM. Directly over the Statue of Liberty the moon was as golden as the torch.

And back to the East River again! 

One of the marvelous things about New York Harbor is that the Hudson River ebbs and the East River floods concurrently for more than an hour. Thank Lake Tear of the Clouds and other freshwater sources of the Hudson River for adding muscle to the tidal ebb for that extra hour out. We slipped from one estuary conveyor belt to the other to round The Battery. Heading home to the Newtown Creek and Hunters Point South was nearly effortless, and we landed ahead of schedule.

 

 

 

Another Glorious Day for ReservoirLAB!

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HarborLAB volunteers had an amazing Friday with Astoria-based Variety Boys and Girls Club on the Neversink Reservoir. We use our second kayak and canoe fleet to introduce city kids to their drinking water resources, thanks to a unique permit from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and a grant and in-kind donations from the Catskill Watershed Corporation. The generosity of our volunteers allows us to offer this program for free.

The Neversink Reservoir is always gorgeous. In August black-eyed susan and goldenrod flowers light up the shores with yellow while speckled old man of the forest mushrooms and amethyst coral fungi do the quiet work  of recycling forest floor nutrients. Wild, low-bush blueberry bushes are still yielding fruit but the birds are working them over fast! The kids discovered these, and frogs and blue jay feathers and more during their paddles and forest hikes. They learned about how forests prevent erosion and run-off pollution, allowing NYC and surrounding counties to enjoy unfiltered water.

A huge thanks to NYCDEP and CWC (whose educator, Diane Galusha, also helped lead the forest walk!) and the amazingly generous HarborLAB volunteers. A special thanks this week to Maribel Egipciaco for transporting us in her minivan.

To volunteer or support this program, please email volunteer@harborlab or support@harborlab.org.

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Volunteer for Harbor Camp with HarborLAB!

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Come share the joy of the water with NYC kids and have a ball! HarborLAB hosted great Harbor Camp events in July at Gantry Plaza State Park for kids from East Harlem and more are scheduled for August, for kids from Queens and the Bronx as well. Participants all leave with with environmental literature for kids, thanks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. HarborLAB believes strongly that beautiful experiential learning will inspire reading about related topics, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. After all, nature is the best teacher!

HarborLAB samples water each week for pathogen testing at CUNY LaGuardia Community College at the Environmental Science lab operated by HarborLAB Board Member Holly Porter-Morgan, PhD. This work is coordinated through the NYC Water Trail Association’s “citizen scientist” program. We’re happy to report that water at Gantry Plaza State Park consistently rates as swimming quality. We do, however, cancel programs after heavy rainfalls as a precaution, because runoff waters cause combined sewers in NYC to overflow.

To help as a volunteer or supporter, please email us at volunteer@harborlab.org or support@harborlab.org.

A huge thanks to our volunteers, the New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and our sponsors. This program is also supported with a grant from the Newtown Creek Group, a consortium of responsible parties in settlement and partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency for the cleanup of the Newtown Creek, a Superfund site that runs between Brooklyn and Queens.

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Late July on the Neversink Reservoir

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HarborLAB takes Variety Boys and Girls Club paddling on the Neversink Reservoir.          Photo by Dorothy Morehead.

It was a day of wild blueberries, crystal water, and a painterly sky for the 25 kids from Variety Boys and Girls Club who joined HarborLAB on the Neversink Reservoir on Friday, July 29. Our ReservoirLAB program has a dedicated fleet of kayaks and canoes in the Catskills, but we need volunteers to help sustain and grow this wonderful experiential learning opportunity. What a beautiful way to learn about our drinking water resources! HarborLAB is the only organization offering such a comprehensive view of our city’s water systems with boats at both ends — the highlands to the harbor!

Many thanks to the Catskill Watershed Corporation and NYC Department of Environmental Protection for making ReservoirLAB possible. This day was the fruit of volunteer labor, with Thomas Dieter, Patricia Erickson, Dorothy Morehead, Diana Szatkowski, Ray Tan, and Scott Wolpow putting in a very long day of travel, patient teaching, and hard work. Scott and Patricia also visited the kids at the Club in Astoria ahead of the trip upstate, to deliver an orientation and educational talk. THANK YOU!

Photos below by Thomas Dieter, Dorothy Morehead, and Ray Tan.

 

Build a Reed Boat With Us!

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International High School students binding phragmites reeds. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB is building a reed boat to debut on City of Water Day, July 16, and you can help!

To join our reed harvesting and boat building efforts email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject “Reed Boat.”

Cultures across the globe have made reed boats or equivalents for thousands of years, from the woven ark of the story of baby Moses to the elaborate totora balsas made by the ancient and surviving Uru people of Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru even today. Our boat is most inspired by Ethiopian papyrus tankwa and North American tule canoes. The plant we use  is invasive phragmites, a widely distributed plant with Eurasian genotypes brought to North America as decorative accents on estate landscapes. Phragmites  grew out of control because they reproduce by both fecund seed tufts and rhizomes that sprout new shoots from underground. Our whole region is fringed with this tall, densely growing marsh reed.

To honor the shared heritage of reed boats HarborLAB chose to work with the International High School at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. A cheerful crew of Tibetan (via India and Nepal), Colombian, Ecuadoran, Egyptian, Peruvian, Uzbeki, Bangladeshi, and Senegalese students launched our construction under the guidance of teachers Amy Bouros and Sanjeeb Anower, and HarborLAB volunteers Erik Baard and Katherine Bradford. One Bangladeshi student recounted how in his homeland he built a raft from a banana tree to cut miles from his daily walk to school. We thank Principal Jackie Valane for introducing us to the teachers and taking such an active interest in the project.

Reed boats are great classroom projects for a host of reasons. They require no power tools and the materials are simply reeds and burlap twine, made from another reed called jute. International High School student Tenzin Woesel researched the plant’s growth patterns to calculate how much we’d need to harvest. We included that information in our research application to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group. Tenzin also learned about the history, construction techniques, and anthropology surrounding reed boats from readings selected by HarborLAB volunteer and anthropologist Diana Szatkowski (PhD, Columbia  University).

Phragmites aggressively displace native marsh plants like cordgrass, so most conservation scientists are only happy to see them felled by clippers and machetes. The reeds we use have so far been harvested and fetched from Alley Pond Park by Tenzin, Erik, Patricia Erickson (who also lent her van; HarborLAB Chair Scott Sternbach, director of the LaGCC photography program, lent his pickup truck), Greg Leopold, Katherine, the NYC Parks Stewardship Team, and volunteers from Latham and Watkins, LLP, thanks to coordination by Natural Areas Conservancy and NYC Parks coastal wetlands engineer Jamie Ong. Our quarry was the dead cane. We were careful, however, to remove all seed heads to avoid propagating the species.

When our reed boat has passed its useful working life by the end of the summer, it will entirely return to the earth. We hope that it inspires future projects, or even a World Boatbuilding Museum in NYC!

Please enjoy a photo gallery by Erik Baard of the work so far: