A Lesson That Startled: Kayaking the Hudson
LIKE many other people raised in Baltimore, Ray Fusco grew up with the Chesapeake Bay’s waters pumping through his veins. Fishing and boating were big parts of his youth.
But when Mr. Fusco, a professional kayak instructor and the founder of New York City’s Mayor’s Cup kayak race, moved here three years ago, he was struck by residents’ disconnection from the Hudson River, the western border of this city of 16,000.
“I was on the river often and lots of young people were playing around — playing basketball and doing lots of things — and I never saw people on the river,” he said.
Figuring residents would flock to the Hudson if they learned about it, Mr. Fusco, 41, approached the Beacon school district with a plan; he would promote the river by introducing high school students to kayaking in the school pool.
“You think of Beacon and you think of it as a city school, not as a river school,” said Jean Lain, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction and personnel. “People were just kind of startled by the idea. I mean, can you imagine kayaking in a pool?”
But the idea meshed with the school’s desire to expose students to lifetime activities. It also fit with this former industrial city’s river-centered, environmental/recreational push, which includes creation of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, construction of floating pools for swimming in the Hudson, and Scenic Hudson’s development of a riverfront park and adjoining 160-room “green” hotel on the 25-acre Long Dock Beacon site.
This winter, five days of kayaking were incorporated into the physical education program of Beacon High’s 400 juniors and seniors. The ultimate reward, though, was a springtime Hudson paddle for 34 students, most of them seniors. Seventeen kayaked seven miles south from Long Dock to Little Stony Point on May 28 and 17 more the next day.
“Some kids live here all their lives and have never been down to Long Dock, let alone the river, and it’s such a beautiful place,” Kim Atwell, a physical education teacher, said.
“It’s like it’s right there, so you kind of take it for granted,” Lana Lagomarsini, editor of the school’s newspaper, The Bulldog Chronicle, said of the river.
Ms. Lagomarsini, an 18-year-old senior, kayaked whitecapped water driven by 25-mile-per-hour gusts on May 28. “It was challenging, but it was fun to push myself,” she said.
Because of the trip, Dominick DiFilippo, 17, a senior who had never been on the water, said he wanted to get a rowboat for catch-and-release fishing.
The trip demonstrated the water’s accessibility, said Sasha Freeman, 17, a senior. “People don’t realize the beauty of the Hudson Valley,” she said. “I would never have taken the initiative to have gone canoeing or kayaking on my own.”
The paddle included a stop at Bannerman’s (or Pollepel) Island, whose main building, a skeletal-looking castle, once housed much of the arsenal of the arms dealer Francis Bannerman in the early 1900s. (Public access to the island is restricted.) Student interest was stirred by stories from their guide, Wes Gottlock, about the island’s prostitution and bootlegging before the arsenal was built and of a 1920 building explosion heard 75 miles away.
Joelle Price, 17, a Beacon native and a senior who had never been on the river, now wants to canoe the waterway with her father. Peter Redler, 18, another senior who is a lifelong resident, wants to become a kayak instructor.
Mr. Fusco said other districts had inquired about beginning a program like Beacon’s. But Beacon isn’t standing still.
“This is really something to build upon the next few years,” said Eric Romanino, the high school’s director of physical education and athletics. “Our main objective now is to increase the number of kids we get on the river.”
By NANCY HAGGERTY