The Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, a direct descendant of the Yonkers Canoe Club, founded in 1886, is being threatened with eviction from its home on the Hudson River by its landlord, Westchester County. Here’s a letter by the club’s commodore, Bob Morrow, about the issue.
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone.
The early Hudson dawn, with the orange light on the Palisades across the river. A clanking chain and opening chain-link gate, the quiet of a wooden cross-piece rising. A small group of people carry out their kayaks and equipment, and prepare another journey.
The boats are small and light. Some are mahogany, some traditional Greenlandic skin on frame. Some inexpensive plastic, some Kevlar composite, some built in the iPark boat shop. The paddlers are likewise diverse, older and younger, experienced and novice.
The boats slide quietly off into the water, leaving barely a ripple. Soft, expectant conversation measured by liquid paddle strokes and sparkling dawn ripples. Perhaps the group is off for Croton, or Alpine, or maybe down to Spuyten Dyvil or around Manhattan, for two hours or much longer. The old boathouse stands quietly closed as the City wakes up.
Or picture a group of colorful kayakers assembled on the water to listen to Jazz-On-Hudson at dusk. Or the Mayor officiating at a boisterous cross river race. Or the big red Voyageur canoe off to Croton for an all-women’s camping expedition with generations paddling together.
This boathouse is one of the last of an endangered species. The Hudson’s shores were once crowded with similar modest wooden buildings, used by boaters of modest means. The development of first rail and then roads, and the siting of industries and parking lots led to the loss of most clubs. Few remain, and their memory has faded. In Yonkers, a committed group of paddlers has kept the boathouse open, negotiating around all obstacles, making friends with politicians and developers, and quietly keeping an access point for the public to the river open and safe in the midst of general decline, and now exciting revitalization.
For us, the license of the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club with the County of Westchester was one of several such negotiations, as the neighboring sewage pump station started expanding aggressively to seize the water’s edge. We had come to a friendly accommodation with the County for several years, and the steadfast support of the City of Yonkers in maintaining access for us to Alexander Street has led us to believe that we had survived another uneasy stretch. In October, 2003, the County even spent $10,000 to repair our electrical and water supply that had been damaged during the construction of the new waterfront storage shed for the pumping station behind us, built without a moment of public review.
We were clearly part of a City plan to include our historic boathouse as part of the new Esplanade, a plan which we warmly endorse.
The Christmas eviction by the County, giving us 6 weeks to vacate over the winter holiday two months before the end of our current license in March, was a shock. Despite the County’s warning that they would not let us stay forever, no one in the County nor the City has ever proposed a new site for the Club. So an eviction meant sudden death for our historic clubhouse and for our collection of traditional boats, some of which measure 30 feet. Our group is not willing to accept this, nor has any observer agreed with the County’s actions. Such observers include the original supporters of the new park, Scenic Hudson, as well as the Clearwater organization, the Beczak Environmental and Education Center, the Hudson Riverkeeper. The Hudson River Watertrail Association, the American Canoe Association, the Yonkers government and Downtown Waterfront Business Improvement District, and many more, as well as the editorial board of the Journal News.
So are access and preservation important? Developers and planners always have good reasons for eliminating riverfront access points, and every one of these points has required a struggle to survive. What of the County’s reasons? That we were always told we would have to go? We have always negotiated this point. Our local government includes us in their future plans.
That we are polluters? Some of you are saying “Oh please, that pump station has dumped many millions of gallons of partially treated sewage from upcounty!” We disagree, of course, that we pollute, but if so, and this is the first written accusation, we will fix it. Our water is shut off for the winter months, and it comes from the pump station, so if the County is worried, don’t turn our water on until the problem is fixed. Historically, we had a septic field, but the oldtimers say the County destroyed it and put our sewage in their own discharge pipes a few years back.
We are too high intensity for the new Habirshaw park? We have been stewards of the area for seventy years. We do not launch or land in the new park. We have southern access guaranteed. We are low-impact by design. But is it the intention of the County to lock everyone out of that park with its ugly black fence? We hope not, or another river access point will have been stolen. But the club has no need of the County park. We will volunteer to keep it clean, as the County has no money budgeted to maintain the park. We have supported the Beczak Center for many years.
What about boat trailer turnarounds? My kayak, built in the iPark, weighs 35 pounds. We have no trailers, and need none. We have only human-powered boats that are hand-carried or rolled on little carts. The big historic boats come and go on the river only. They can’t make it through the corners created by the County’s new shed.
The clubhouse will prevail as cooler heads lead us to an amicable settlement. We have no axe to grind. Those who seek us ill will recognize that we are public servants as much as they, and that access and preservation are a higher public good than political feuds And please join us in the enjoyment of this great national treasure. The Hudson River is not a thing to look at, but a park to explore. Our club is opened to all.