Honoring MLK, Jr. through Water.

MLK circa 1965 Courtesy of Malcolm Lauredo/Hampton House / colorized by Dayana Ibara

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” But he knew as much as any that while nature looses water, humanity binds it. We commodify it, channel it, and decide who can have access to it. A bit too much like justice.

The top two points of HarborLAB’s mission statement are:

  1. To foster estuary and NYC watershed-themed ecological and natural science education, especially for underprivileged NYC youth and underrepresented community members.
  2. To foster estuary ecological restoration and NYC watershed conservation as a justly shared legacy.

Systemic racism for generations kept African Americans away from public pools and beaches and made many private options financially unattainable. New York City is no exception. HarborLAB volunteers are working to help restore a venerable cultural legacy from which the whole world has benefited. The second oldest discovered boat in the world is the 8,500-year old Dufuna, Nigeria canoe, predated by about 2,000 years by only one dugout canoe unearthed in Pesse, Netherlands. Maritime archeologists have determined that the Dufuna canoe’s sophistication indicates a boatbuilding tradition that reaches much deeper into ancient prehistory than is likely for Europeans. The Dutch boat was preserved by hypoxic peat, which are common to Northern Europe, while very few wooden structures last very long in tropical Africa.

While HarborLAB focuses on environmental STEM education using kayaks and canoes, just the act of actively welcoming diverse communities to paddle is an action against racist structures. Being on the water quickly feels natural, and participants understand that they can return to the water with HarborLAB, on their own, or with others because the water belongs to them. This goes for the estuary and reservoir system alike at a time when disparities in sewage processing and drinking water infrastructure make for deathly headlines. Our boat choices, public programs, and “Partner Paddles” with NYCHA resident groups, public schools, organizations with community pools, and CUNY all aim to reduce barriers to entry. We’re even exploring ways to celebrate natural hair styles that make participation easier.

We welcome your suggestions as to how we might be of even greater service to all. Please email us at volunteer@harborlab.org.

2022 Public Programming!

As we hold a steady course through waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect a more active public paddling season in 2022. This is thanks to vaccines, therapeutic advances, and good public health policies produced by the same philosophical method that undergirds environmental stewardship: science.

Please understand that at this early date our event schedule — based on NOAA‘s astronomical tidal current calculations — is incomplete and tentative pending permits, partners, pandemic conditions, and the usual weather and water quality concerns. We will be adding and amending events bit-by-bit over the coming months. Please keep checking our Facebook Events Page and the Calendar tab here to keep up, and email volunteer@harborlab.org to be added to our periodic outreach.

Our public paddles and educational programs are FREE and we gratefully accept donations and information about potential sponsors and donors. Events marked as “Volunteer Reward Paddle” are special invitation adventures to hone staff skills and to thank those who labor with us to provide wonderful experiences for all.

Before we even hit the water for public events, this spring we’ll be scheduling safety training, planting trees and native flower seeds, gardening at our Newtown Creek site on Vernon Boulevard, and making upcycled shelters for indigenous animals on dates to be determined in discussions with park administrators. Some volunteers may paddle year-round with cold water safety gear for stewardship work and habitat and pollution documentation.

Recurring Events

First Mondays monthly at the Neversink Reservoir for NYC Public Schools and other youth groups, often preceded by Sunday events.

Wednesdays and Fridays, July and August at Gantry Plaza State Park and/or Governors Island: Harbor Camp introductory embayment paddles for NYCHA resident youth groups referred by United Neighborhood Houses.

Thursday morning water sampling at the Hunters Point South Park kayak launch and the Gantry Plaza State Park dock for quality testing at CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s lab.

Monthly second Thursday evening Green Drinks Queens environmental happy hours organized by HarborLAB.

Friday evenings from June 24 to September 2 at Hunters Point South Park: Friday Night Chill Paddles for all who want an introduction to the estuary through a mellow skyline-viewing East River tour.

5/7 Newtown Creek Sweep with Riverkeeper (WEATHER AND WATER QUALITY CANCELATION)
5/22 Newtown Creek Sweep with Riverkeeper and CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

6/4 Family Fun Day Paddling at MacNeil Park with Coastal Preservation Network.
6/4: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.
6/11 Pride Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
6/19 Juneteenth Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.

7/2 Green Energy Independence Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
7/4 Volunteer Reward Paddle to view fireworks, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/16: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour (small group).
7/30 Randalls Island Park Waterfront Festival.
7/31 Deaf Community Manhattan Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South.

8/6 Green STEM Student Paddle.
8/13-14 Volunteer Reward “Perseids Paddle” Manhattan Night Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South. Will include a fundraiser for SUNY ESF.
8/20 Community Paddle (theme TBD) at Gantry Plaza State Park.
8/21 Vegan Dim Sum Run tour to Chinatown for sustainable food systems awareness, launching from Hunters Point South.
8/27: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.

9/3 Power Paddle tour of the East River’s history of energy generation.
9/10: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour (small group).
9/18 Peace Lanterns Festival and Community Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
9/24 South Brother Island Cleanup, launching from Hunters Point South.

10/1 Wisdom Day Paddle honoring environmental elders and teachers at Gantry Plaza State Park.
10/8 Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.
10/9 Neversink Reservoir season closer. Moving boats back to storage.
10/10 Algonquin history tour of Newtown Creek.

Photo by Jeffry Lim.