More than a dozen people gathered at Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus on June 25 to say “yes” to swimming in northern New Jersey waterways.
On the coldest day of the summer, and with a light drizzle coming down, Hackensack Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance members and supporters celebrated Swimmable Action Day with a mid-day dip into the Hackensack River as they lobbied for clean swimmable water.
“Today, Hackensack Riverkeeper in cooperation with the Waterkeeper Alliance, swam in the Hackensack River to protest the fact that 40 years after the Clean Water Act our river still does not meet the criteria for swimmable water,” said Capt. Bill Sheehan of Secaucus. “All people have the right to swim and recreate in their local waters – and to expect better from our state and federal governments.”
Sheehan took the plunge into the Hackensack, as did Richard Dwyer of Bayonne.
“It was warm,” Dwyer said. “I felt clean when I came out, and it was refreshing.”
For Dwyer, the public demonstration was an important one. Growing up in the Greenville section of Jersey City, he was within bicycling distance of Newark Bay, the Kill Van Kull, and the Hackensack and Hudson rivers, yet could not use any of them because of the pollution. He had to wait until his parents took him to a lake or the Jersey Shore to go into the water.
“All people have the right to swim and recreate in their local waters.” – Capt. Bill Sheehan
Rachel Cook, director of operations at the Waterkeeper Alliance in Manhattan, joined the others in the river, and focused on the seriousness of the day.
“To show how it important it is to fight for clean water,” Cook said. “To ensure we can use our waterways the way we should be able to use them, whether it be to swim it, drink from it or fish from it.”
“The cold air and drizzle did not stop our protest,” said Sarah Menchise, outreach coordinator for the Riverkeeper. “Those of the group that did not fully submerge their bodies waded through the water up to their knees.”
Overall, Swimmable Action Day was a success, according to the group.
“People exercised their right to swim in the Hackensack River,” said Menchise. “We hope that next year we will have a larger turnout and be one step closer to clean water.”
Alliance members visited other local waterways in the New York City metropolitan area, including Union Beach in Monmouth County, Croton Point Park in New York, and beaches in Connecticut, to swim – or in some cases, not swim – due to the unsafe levels of pollution.
Swimmable Water Weekend is a global event, recognizing the important role water plays in communities. Between July 25 and 28, 200 Waterkeeper chapters and thousands of individuals from more than 20 countries took to the water to encourage citizens to celebrate their right to clean, swimmable waters, and to promote the importance of protecting local waterways.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.