By Sabina Mollot
Who needs the beach when you have the East River?
Last Saturday, neighborhood residents headed out to Stuyvesant Cove Park for a free kayaking event on the river, the second such event to take place since planning of the East River Blueway project got underway. Though this recreational event was unaffiliated with that plan, Deanne Draeger of the East 13th Street based organization Urban Swim said the goal is essentially the same, which is to get New Yorkers out onto a clean, safe waterway.
The first kayaking event at Stuyvesant Cove took place last August, and like this one, was a hit, with neighborhood residents of all ages, many of whom had never gone boating before, lining up to use the kayaks. According to Solar One’s figures, there were around 200 participants.
“For a lot of people it was their first time ever, so it was a very interesting thing to be able to do,” said Draeger. “You don’t need experience and we provided all the safety equipment. Some people were nervous, but when you get on the water it’s incredible and you’re paddling around in the New York Harbor.”
Along with Urban Swim, the afternoon activity was also made possible by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, NYCEDC and Long Island City Community Boat Club. The organization has also fostered relationships with other organizations that have supported its efforts including Solar One, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and the NY Water Trail Association.
In addition to hosting events aimed at getting people into the water, including the occasional swim between Stuyvesant Cove and Coney Island, Urban Swim also does weekly testing of the water to determine its cleanliness. Fortunately, according to Draeger, most of the time, the water’s fine, at least for swimming and other activities.
“It’s definitely a lot cleaner than it has been,” she said, noting that the practice of dumping into rivers by many companies “has been curtailed.”
The only exception tends to be after heavy rainfalls, thanks to an antiquated sewer system. (At that time, the river can see what’s known as combined sewage overflow, which is extra storm water that can’t be treated fast enough by sewage plants.)
Draeger said Urban Swim tests at around 30 sites in Manhattan and then publishes its results.
“We’re very grassroots about it,” she said. “A bunch of us test in different locations.”
Urban Swim has been around since 2010, having gotten started after Draeger organized a swim for herself from Stuyvesant Cove Park to Steeple Chase in Coney Island, Brooklyn. When she did it again the following year and then the next, she invited others to join her and has since been organizing other events on the water.
If anyone thinks they can handle a similar swim, the next opportunity will be on August 10, when the group once again heads from Stuy Cove to Coney Island. Another swim, from the Statue of Liberty to One World Trade Center, is scheduled for September 14. There will also be another kayaking day at the Cove set for August 17. For more information about upcoming events, visit the “Urban Swim” Facebook page.