By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Local residents, kayakers, environmental education advocates and elected officials gathered at Baruch College last Thursday to discuss plans for on-water access at Stuyvesant Cove Park. The meeting was hosted by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which worked with other organizations to provide free kayaking in the park for the last two summers.
MWA President and CEO Roland Lewis led the discussion and both Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and City Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who are sponsors of the East River Blueway plan, were on hand at the meeting to show their support for increased access to the water. Garodnick’s office has allocated $1 million in funding for a kayak and canoe launch at Stuy Cove, and the plans for these funds, among other proposals about water access in Stuy Cove, were the topic the meeting.
Lewis noted that the MWA believes open waters should be used for three basic purposes: education, recreational boating and historic ships. The purpose of the meeting on Thursday was to explore possibilities for expanding all of these options, but while Solar 1 has been able to conduct at least some educational programming and kayaking has been planned despite needing a ladder to get to the water, the historic shipping community has been left in dire straits.
“I’m standing here without a place for my 160-foot boat for the season, which starts in three weeks,” said Tom Berton of Manhattan by Sail. “One of the problems is access. These boats need to be able to side load and there are very few docks that can do that.”
There is an eco dock in Bay Ridge that can accommodate historic ships which is maintained by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and Berton said that the historic shipping community is very supportive of the alliance’s initiative to create more on water access at Stuyvesant Cove because it could create more space for these ships that have nowhere to dock.
A teacher from the New York Harbor School was at the meeting to advocate for educational programming and an eco dock would facilitate that. “Freshmen from the school come out to Stuyvesant Cove Park for a full day and do water quality testing and an eco dock affords some of that,” she said.
An eco dock is a kind of floating dock connected to a pier and moves with the tide. Such a dock would be ideal for Berton’s purposes and would also be able to accommodate smaller boats, although Graeme Birchall, president of Downtown Boathouse, advocated for a different tack.
“I don’t like any of the eco docks that I’ve seen,” he said. “What we need is viable access for a large number of beginner users. The only place I’ve seen that successfully is at Brooklyn Bridge Park and in Hoboken, with a sandy beach.”
One attendee at the meeting asked about places along the water to relax but Lewis noted that plans thus far are primarily for transient boat use. Another question was raised about the possibility of swimming in the river. Lewis said that there have been plans proposed that would allow such a thing, such as a project on Kickstarter that created a pool with a filtration system, but he said that it’s unlikely the Blueway plans would include something like that.
Lewis said that the $1 million in capital funding will get the project started but he noted that the community will still have to figure out where the funds will come from to maintain and operate it. Lewis added that the next step is to give the feedback from this meeting to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, as well as talk with the involved elected officials to figure out the best route with the community board on opening a dock.