Blogs > Ecology > Endurance swimmer joins Riverkeeper in surfacing the Hudson River’s story – for all the world to see

Endurance swimmer joins Riverkeeper in surfacing the Hudson River’s story – for all the world to see

Tracy_Lewis Pugh 9-11-23

Riverkeeper President and Hudson Riverkeeper Tracy Brown with UN Environmental Programme Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh
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Lewis Pugh’s 315-mile swim of the entire Hudson is an ongoing, inspiring tale of endurance – for this athlete, and for generations of local advocates working to restore the river back to health. Riverkeeper was proud to collaborate on this historic swim.

Riverkeeper President and Hudson Riverkeeper Tracy Brown with UN Environmental Programme Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh

The Hudson River has a powerful story to tell, as a place where people rose up to heal it from industrial degradation. It is the birthplace of the Riverkeeper organization, and inspired similar organizations to form around waterways across the globe. That story is very much in motion, and we’re grateful that swimmer Lewis Pugh, the UN Environment Programme’s Patron of the Oceans, entered the scene this summer to help bring the river’s current progress and ongoing challenges into view for a worldwide audience.

Videos, photos, and media narratives brought people to the river to learn how fighting industrial pollution is a decades-long endurance test; how toxic PCBs, invasive species, a warming climate, and sewage pollution are among the persistent threats; and how Riverkeeper works diligently alongside a community of advocates to fight for the river’s well-being.

Riverkeeper was delighted to collaborate and share with Pugh’s team our deep knowledge of the Hudson; our data that helps users decide where and when it’s clean enough to swim; and our network of partners, advocates and volunteers who power this local movement with us.

When the New York Times announced Pugh’s intention to swim the entire Hudson – the latest in his series of feats raising awareness about the plight of waterways worldwide – Riverkeeper’s insights on the health of the river helped set the stage.

Throughout the swim, Pugh held the Hudson up as a positive example. “I hope that this swim is a swim which gives hope to people around the world, that this river which was so badly polluted was turned around,” Pugh said, “and I hope that they can look at their river, wherever they are in the world, and say to themselves, ‘Well if they can clean up the Hudson, why can’t we clean up our river?’”

Pugh’s descent down the Hudson from the Adirondacks showcased the river’s beauty, along with some of the hidden threats to its health.

In Troy, where the tidal Hudson begins, Riverkeeper joined with Pugh and our partners the Media Sanctuary to discuss the river’s importance, for both human and aquatic life, including migratory species that rely on the Hudson to renew their populations. The gathering at Ingalls Avenue Boat Launch in North Troy marked the halfway point in Pugh’s swim.

Riverkeeper and Media Sanctuary are in the fourth year of a collaboration called the Water Justice Lab, involving young science fellows who test and process water quality samples from the Hudson at Troy. Media intern Aljahraun Wright spoke with the Lewis Pugh Foundation about the swim in this video:

Troy is also the place where Riverkeeper launched its pioneering effort to restore free flowing streams in Hudson River tributaries, with the removal of a dam on the Wynants Kill, and the return of the herring just days later.

Riverkeeper met up with Pugh again at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper Senior Director of Advocacy, Policy & Planning, engaged in a discussion at the Marist Boathouse. It was a chance to highlight the Hudson’s importance as a drinking water source for seven communities, a habitat for endangered species, a source of food, and a place of recreation – all of which is further challenged by the effects of climate change. Marist College President Kevin Weinman and college faculty and students joined Pugh in the water near campus.

See more in this Al Jazeera segment with Pugh and Riverkeeper’s Dan Shapley:

And as Pugh continued south toward New York Harbor, Riverkeeper President Tracy Brown described how far we’ve come from the “bad old days,” with people returning to live near the river and enjoy boating and swimming. “It went from being an embarrassment to really being an asset,” she said. “Now we just have to go to that next level and continue the momentum, and also prepare for this whole new wave of complex problems that climate change brings us.”

By their very nature, estuaries are places of hope and renewal.

“Estuaries like the Hudson are the nurseries of life,” Brown said. “We are where the fish from the ocean come in to reproduce and lay their eggs and spend their early years and then go back. These little rivers, these little places where the fresh water and the marine water meet and stir up are such valuable ecosystem, and the most productive ecosystem on earth, even more than rainforests, are the estuaries.”

In Riverkeeper’s ongoing efforts to protect and restore the Hudson, there’s no finish line in sight – only the work ahead, and the partnerships, the legal tools, and the scientific research that will help us move forward together, one stroke at a time.

You can support Riverkeeper’s efforts to protect and restore the Hudson River and its connected waters by becoming a member. To stay up to date, please join our mailing list.