Blogs > Ecology > Why I Sweep: A Hudson River clean enough for the return of the fishing industry and swimming

Why I Sweep: A Hudson River clean enough for the return of the fishing industry and swimming


View more images on our Flickr site

This is one in a series of guest blog posts about Riverkeeper Sweep,
our annual day of service for the Hudson, involving dozens of shoreline cleanups and planting projects on a single day. Be part of the next Sweep, October 17, 2020 – Visit


Many many years ago, my wife and I found an apartment on Manhattan’s West Side that had views of the Hudson River from the bedroom, kitchen and bathrooms. We called them the million dollar views, and we didn’t think we could afford that. It turned out the apartment was in really bad shape. Our offer was accepted. We bought it, and now we have the million dollar views. We look out at the Hudson constantly, during all seasons.

About five years ago I went on an organized Riverkeeper Sweep in Riverside Park near my home, pulling trash out of the rip rap.

Later it dawned on me that I could do this myself, and immediately alleviate the distress of seeing the trash.

So in the mornings, on my return from an every-other-day lap swim at Riverbank State Park, I’d stop and pick up a large bag’s worth of trash and sometimes large pieces of debris – Styrofoam blocks, car tires, large diameter ropes and other objects.

The Riverside Park Conservancy supplied the bags and trash grabbers. The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation would pick up the bags and debris that I’d gather and leave behind.

Most of the trash looked like it had been there for 20 years or more, so I felt that once it was gone, it would take a long time to reaccumulate. And fortunately, that seems to be the case. After 4 years of doing this (about 450 trash bags) I started using smaller bags and covering larger areas. Whereas before I would be bummed out by seeing the trash, now I had a hard time finding it.

The NYC Department of Parks started picking up the trash too, but they usually wouldn’t go into the rip rap. Much of what I collected had been floating in and floating off, so not only is this small section of shoreline cleaner, but probably a much larger length of shoreline is positively affected.

Now with the pandemic, my pool is closed, so I’m swimming in the Hudson River every day (sometimes more than once a day) and I like to keep the area where I swim clean. I travel with a trash grabber bungeed to my bike and trash bags in my backpack.

Two years ago the New York Times had an article about my swimming in the Hudson River, and since then I’ve been using the swimming to build a constituency for clean water.

In the Hudson, the water is not clear, but I’m told clarity improves as it gets colder; it’s cloudy mostly because of the high amount of phytoplankton in the water. I’ve gone swimming in the East River also (Transmitter Park and Marsha P. Johnson State Park) and the water there has more clarity. It’s also a bit cooler than the Hudson.

This year, I will again take part in Riverkeeper Sweep. I usually anchor the annual Sweep at the Little Red Lighthouse, next to the George Washington Bridge. After some light cleaning of the area south of the lighthouse, we go north to an area mostly accessed by jet skiers and random fishermen. More people are appreciating the beauty and significance of this area, and now the Riverside Park Conservancy has extended its area to encompass the area where we sweep.

Before the pandemic, I would take pride in the increased foot traffic the area would get. Now, the foot traffic has gone through the roof, and people realize sitting along the Hudson River is hard to beat.

I’m seeing some other hopeful signs, too.

In addition to swimming in the river, I monitor several oyster cages for the Billion Oyster Project in West Harlem Piers. The oysters are doing great there. My pet theory is that it’s due to a combination of warm water and fewer predators. The Hudson gets really warm in the summer, far warmer than most Billion Oyster Project sites, and that makes oysters grow incredibly fast. I’ve seen oysters grow to restaurant size in one year. So I really look forward to the day when the Hudson River fishing industry can return.

I have to thank Riverkeeper for increasing my knowledge of what we’ve lost in the Hudson River, and what we stand to gain.

IraGersh from Sarah Burchell on Vimeo.

Find the full list of this year’s Sweep projects here.

Learn about water quality in the Hudson River, and efforts to improve it, here.

More posts on Why I Sweep >