By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community residents got a taste of nature last Saturday when Stuyvesant Cove Park hosted an afternoon of free kayaking. The Long Island City Community Boathouse provided all of the equipment, including the boats, lifejackets and paddles, and the event was a community project from the LIC Boathouse, Urban Swim and the New York City Water Trail Association, with help from Lower East Side Ecology Center, SWIM Coalition and the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and support from Solar One.
This was the third time ever that kayaking was offered in Stuyvesant Cove Park and it was the second and last time for this season. Many of the volunteers and participants said that they’re hoping the opportunity will be more regularly available and LIC Boathouse chair John McGarvey said that he’s hoping the recent $1 million grant that came in conjunction with the East River Blueway plan will help make a boathouse at Stuyvesant Cove Park a reality. With the current set-up, kayaking at Stuyvesant Cove Park is available so infrequently because there is nowhere to store the boats, especially since the naturally formed beach at the park disappears at high tide, and the only way to get to the river is by climbing up and over the fence with a rigged ladder and a cooler as a stepping stool.
“The grant will help with infrastructure and ideally will help consult with the boathouse, and won’t let some architect make something that’s just pretty and useless,” McGarvey said. “It’s a boon to the community the value it gives to the real estate, environmental activism and health. We’ll keep supporting it. The trick is to just be politically active to get things done.”
By the end of the event last Saturday, the Lower East Side Ecology Center said that almost 150 people came to go paddling, which they considered a success, and LIC Boathouse volunteer Ted Gruber said that he was happy to see the Cove’s beach empty most of the afternoon, with all of the boats on the river.
Gruber, one of the many LIC Boathouse volunteers at the event, is a strong proponent for kayaking in the East River because it’s a resource the community could use and it’s not being taken advantage of.
“There’s no river access on the East Side,” he said. “There are at least seven access points on the west side, and none on the east.”
He added that aside from these sporadic events near Stuyvesant Town providing fun summer activities, he said that residents need to attend the events to show that there is interest in making it a more permanent fixture.
“It’s important that we educate people in Stuy Town so people know that they can have this here,” he said. “The people who want to see this here need to come out and let people know that there is a demand and that we’d like this here.”
Barbara Alpert, a Stuyvesant Town resident who grew up in the area and also volunteers with the LIC Boathouse, said that she really wants to encourage people to come out and participate.
“I like kayaking but I especially like it out in the neighborhood,” she said.
Graeme Birchall, president of Downtown Boathouse, which offers free kayaking on the Hudson River, was at the event to support the effort for East Side river access.
“This is the cleanest air in Manhattan,” he said. “It might not be the cleanest water but it’s the cleanest air. Wouldn’t it be nice if these residents of the East Side had similar possibilities as those on the west? It’s amazing to do right in the city and people don’t even realize they can do it here.”
Beatrice Hoffman and her sister Celeste Clarke had never been to Stuyvesant Cove Park but Hoffman has kayaked with the LIC Boathouse before and she’s a volunteer with them and the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The two, who are also senior citizens, were out on Saturday because Clarke had never been kayaking before.
“So many people don’t get the opportunity to do water sports and they don’t realize how easy it is to do in the city, especially because it can be so expensive,” Hoffman said.
“But it’s important to do things like kayaking because it also encourages people to learn how to swim.”