Believe it or not, people come from as far away as California and Colorado to cruise area waterways and enjoy the natural beauty locals sometimes take for granted. But sailing down Newark Bay or under the Pulaski Skyway is just a reservation away.
With spring making its debut this weekend, the Hackensack Riverkeeper has announced its 2010 schedule of “eco-programs,” which include small-group boat tours, guided paddle trips, and river clean-ups. Even though the 23-week schedule was just released, spaces are already filling up for the popular program, which the Riverkeeper has expanded this season.
The programs introduce most participants to scenery that is familiar to them and yet still unknown.
“Many people who live in our area don’t have much of a connection with the maritime activities and maritime history of our area,” said Riverkeeper Program Director Hugh Carola recently.
Carola said he always makes a point to stop at historically significant spots along the waterway. For example, off the coast of Kearny he stops near the site of the old Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock factory, which built U.S. war ships from 1917 until a few years after WWII.
“Rosie the Riveter actually worked here, in Kearny! There were lots of them working at Federal Shipbuilding,” Carola said.
He also notes the sites in Bayonne where Elco Naval Division produced PT boats, also during WWII, and the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage had its training academy.
“On some cruises we go all the way down to Staten Island and back,” Carola said. “There’s a tiny island off the north coast of Staten Island called Shooters Island. We pop around that and head back up the bay.”
Other eco-cruises go up the Hackensack River or explore the Meadowlands region.
The Riverkeeper has 36 pontoon boat cruises planned for this season, with the first one scheduled for Saturday, May 1. Rides are $25 per adult and $10 for kids 12 and under.
On your mark, get set, paddle
While the eco-cruises are laid back and relaxed, the Riverkeeper’s guided paddle tours, which are also part of the 2010 eco-program line-up, are a bit more rugged.
The organization’s Paddling Center in Secaucus’ Laurel Hill Park is the only small boat livery on the Hackensack River. Last April the Riverkeeper introduced a new canoe/kayak dry dock which allows paddlers to safely launch and retrieve their vessels. The dock is the first of 13 docks along the planned 21-mile Hackensack River Water Trail.
There will be 27 guided paddle trips along the Hackensack this season. The fee is $25 per paddler, with a two-paddler minimum per kayak.
The organization will also hold its Second Annual Reservoir Challenge, a kayak race and fundraiser at the Oradell Reservoir in June. (Much of Hudson County’s water comes from this reservoir.)
No lifejacket needed
For those who would rather stay on dry land, Riverkeeper staff is available to lead guided bird walks along the Hackensack River. Bird walks can be arranged for small groups of 12 people or less.
There are also opportunities to participate in eight river clean-ups planned for this season. River clean-ups allow volunteers to care for the local watershed by collecting and tossing out trash that has washed up or been discarded on the banks of the Hackensack.
Just how dedicated are the folks who volunteer for these periodic clean-ups? Carola said a crew of 20 volunteers showed up – and worked! – during the torrential rainstorm that hit the area on March 13.
“These clean-ups are the best way to see the connection between how what we do affects what happens on the water,” Carola said. “We want people to take on responsibility and feel a sense of ownership for the local waterways.
‘Fun stuff close to home’
While the Reservoir Challenge is the Riverkeeper’s main fundraising event, all of the eco-programs raise money for the organization’s operating expenses.
“These programs allow us to actually earn money, rather than just rely on grants. Last year, we were a little nervous approaching the season with the economy. But people still wanted to do stuff. And we offer the ability to do fun stuff close to home and at an inexpensive price.”
The Riverkeeper’s 2009 season, Carola said, was actually better than the previous one. More people participated in their outings and the Riverkeeper was able to generate more money than in 2008.
“We’re hoping the same will happen this year.”
For more information about the 2010 eco-program season, call the Hackensack Riverkeeper at (201) 968-0808, or visit www.hackensackriverkeeper.org.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.