HarborLAB volunteers had an amazingly productive Sunday, and had lots of fun in the process! Our goals were to winterize our Newtown Creek waterfront site and prepare it for transformation into the GreenLaunch in the spring. It sure felt like spring already!
We assembled a second shed and platform, repaired “The Jenni” tandem Folbot kayak for use by Baruch College environmental science classes (named for our late friend and CUNY alumna, Jenni Jenkins), set up planters and protected fruit trees from root freeze with vinyl and bags of cocoa shells, gathered seeds (especially pokeberry, goldenrod, and milkweed) for habitat and shoreline stabilization, and protected public boats from UV degradation with tarps. We donated many bricks to Build it Green, delivering them by van. Our bricks, which are molded with holes, are being built sideways into walls in South Africa to allow air circulation.
Many thanks to Patricia Erickson, who directed the day’s work as HarborLAB’s facilities manager and chair of the GreenLaunch committee. A special acknowledgment to Shawn and Miyeon Cornell, who were married just this month and shared this special time with us as stellar volunteers. They are CUNY students, as is Diana Arias, another fantastic volunteer who threw herself into the work (we met her through the great Baruch College ECO Club). Rounding out the crew were Irene McLoughlin, Alessandro Byther (daring Alpinist of bricks and plastic heights), Jenna Nugent, Davis Janowski, Erik Baard, and EJ Lee (HarborLAB operations manager and a CUNY alumna).
Great thanks also to Schuman Properties for our launch and to Citizens Committee for NYC for the initial GreenLaunch project grant. Much gratitude also to Folbot, Lamar Outdoors, Dorothy Morehead for our supplies.
Our new shed came with its own gargoyle (Alessandro). We have no idea what Shawn was doing inside.
The Bernie Entie flies its flag at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.
HarborLAB now flies flags from its canoes bearing names that honor environmentalists who went before us and the species that share our estuary. We’re grateful to artist and graphic designer Caroline Walker for leading this effort and to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard for offering a traditional blessing of our boats and flags. Thanks also to HarborLAB Operations Manager for helping to make this all possible!
Newtown Creek Alliance Interim Chair Dorothy Morehead holds HarborLAB’s canoes for a blessing with burning sage given by Evan Pritchard of the Center for Algonquin Culture.
Paddlers holding our flag for The River Singer, which honors Pete Seeger. The art and writing were done for HarborLAB by Pete Seeger himself.
THE RIVER SINGER: Pete Seeger pioneered the great Hudson River revival by building the Clearwater, a sloop that sails that river up and down to sing up its restoration and carry educators and scientific equipment. When HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard was working with Pete Seeger on a project to promote estuary education, he declined to have a boat named for himself. Instead, he drew a fish exclaiming, “Keep my waters clean!” Friends at the NYC Friends of Clearwater confirmed that humility should carry forward after Pete’s passing. The charming drawing has become our flag for The River Singer. named for Pete’s description of himself.
The “oceanic egg” flag honoring Rachel Carson. By Tracy Coon, artist, and Caroline Walker, art director.
THE RACHEL CARSON: Rachel Carson sparked the modern American environmental movement with her breakthrough book, “Silent Spring.” Her work expanded our conception of environmentalism beyond conservation of wilderness to demanding corporate and governmental responsibility for pollution. She sounded the alarm about promiscuous DDT spraying that was weakening wild birds’ egg shells, causing population collapses. Many forget that she was a career marine biologist, working for the federal government. Erik Baard imagined an “oceanic egg” to represent Carson, capturing her marine biology and DDT work, and reminding viewers that today’s oceans are as fragile as eggs in comparison to pollution from plastics, fertilizer runoffs, and CO2 emissions that become carbonic acid in the sea around us. Tracy Coon made that abstract idea elegantly real.
Flag honoring environmental filmmaker Jenni Jenkins. By Caroline Walker and Erik Baard.
THE JENNI “APPLESEED” JENKINS: When we honor Jenni, we honor a wonderful light snuffed our too early and all of the students at her alma mater, City University of New York. Jenni loved Newtown Pippin apples (painted here by Erik Baard) and served as videographer for a fascinating day paddling on the Newtown Creek and East River with environmental leader and author Bill McKibben of 350.org and Middlebury College. On that outing were journalist and HarborLAB volunteer Davis Janowski and Erik Baard.
Please enjoy the beautiful film, “Plastic Bag,” co-written by Jenni and narrated by (believe it or not) Werner Herzog!
Flag honoring photographer and Newtown Creek Alliance board member Bernie Ente. By Caroline Walker, inspired by an Ente photograph.
THE BERNIE ENTE: In much the same way that Pete Seeger sang the public into awareness about the Hudson River’s urgent needs, photographer Bernie Ente documented life and struggle in the Newtown Creek. Birds, fish, flowers, and other beauties of nature eked out a living on the creek, without being seen or celebrated. Without care. We’re grateful to Bernie for helping us see the Newtown Creek as a place of life and hope. This flag by Caroline Walker was inspired by Bernie’s striking photo of a green heron and discarded balloons on the Newtown Creek. When we honor Bernie, we also honor the Newtown Creek Alliance and Working Harbor Committee.
Newtown Creek green heron by Bernie Ente.
The Muskrat Love flag by Caroline Walker.
THE MUSKRAT LOVE: Caroline Walker brought playfulness to our flags with “The Muskrat Love.” HarborLAB volunteers saw a muskrat swim past our boat launch. Erik Baard’s photo was the first documentation of the species in Newtown Creek. On a later outing Newtown Creek Alliance interim Chair Dorothy Morehead spotted paw prints that Erik recognized as muskrat tracks. If HarborLAB has an unofficial Newtown Creek mascot, this is it. Fittingly, Caroline’s flag matches what might be America’s most polluted waterway with what might be America’s worst love song!
Prof. Pritchard noted, however, that the muskrat plays an heroic role in Algonquin creation beliefs. The brave little mammal swam to the bottom of the water to scoop up soil to place on the turtle’s back. It grew to form North America, but our mythical friend didn’t survive the ordeal. Let’s hope the Newtown Creek muskrats have a brighter future.
THE MOO XOOL: This is the local Algonquin word for both the tulip tree and a dugout canoe carved from the tulip tree. Will you be the artist for it? We have ideas for a design but would love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “moo xool” if you’d like to work on our flag!
This is the first Native American tour of the Newtown Creek, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund site because of the industrial toxins in its sediments. This video was shot by Prof. Scott Sternbach, acclaimed nature photographer, director of CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s photography and video department and Chair of HarborLAB.
These are just shorts taken from our event, and the audio will be enhanced, especially for the beginning section. Full raw footage will be made available to academics and a we’ll release a polished final cut video for the public. Prof.Pritchard offers blessings for the boats by burning sage and discusses diverse topics, including the lands and peoples of the Newtown Creek, how tulip tree canoes (moo xool) were communally shared, and evidence for extensive maritime trade within the Americas before European contact.
Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.
HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.
Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.
Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂
The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.
Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.
ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.
Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.
HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!
Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Photo by Ana Espinal.
Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.
HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Photo by Ana Espinal.
Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.
A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.
Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.
HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.
“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.
CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.
The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!
Even a hose shower was a blessing.
Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.
At least half of us camped over on the island.
Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.
Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.