For 60 years, beginning in 1870, the Hudson and East Rivers were lined with floating pools full of New Yorkers swimming safely in the currents. But in the 1930s, water pollution closed them down. Now some people in our area are working to revive the tradition of the river pool.
The Moses of the movement is the 94 year-old folksinger, Pete Seeger. He recently presided over the 10th Annual Great Newburgh to Beacon Swim, at which more than 200 people swam a mile across the Hudson River. The event raised $50,000 for the Beacon River Pool, a floating pool that is eight feet in diameter and uses mesh nets to filter the river as it flows through it.
Seeger was stretched out on a grassy hill in Beacon, leaning on his elbows and watching the swimmers come in dripping from the river. He recalled how, 40 years ago, he called a meeting to talk about what the river had become: a receptacle of sewage and industrial run-off, and to organize a group that would steer it back toward what it was in the 1800s: sublime, dotted with sloops, and the scenic inspiration for a school of nature painting.
"Only three people showed up," Seeger said of his inaugural organizing effort. But Toshi, his wife, had an idea. "My wife said, 'Don't call it a meeting, call it a potluck supper," Seeger said. "And now 30 people came!" (This year's Hudson Swim was devoted to Toshi, who died in early July.)
Forty years later, the Hudson River is not quite pristine. But it's clean enough in the mid-Hudson Valley to draw families to the Beacon River Pool. Jamie Verinis is there soaking with his wife and kids. "It's pretty cool," Verinis said. "It's got a spongy little bottom. When have you swum in a pool with a spongy bottom?" The spongy bottom and submerged mesh walls help filter the water and keep users from drifting away.
The group that organizes the swims, River Pool at Beacon, is now working to install a larger pool in the river. They've asked for permission to attach the new pool to piece of nearby land owned by a group called Scenic Hudson. Scenic Hudson has not yet decided whether to allow it.
Fifty miles to the south, a private group called Plus Pool wants to follow suit and install a large floating pool in the shape of a plus sign in the East River, tethered by a walkway to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Project designer Archie Lee Coates IV says they're testing the concept now. "The goal is to get it to the same water quality that is in a typical city pool," he said.
His group has raised over three $300,000 through Kickstarter. Coates said Plus Pool will use a series of screens, plus a built-in layer of disinfectant, to purify the water within it without adding chemicals to the river. He's hoping to get Plus Pool in the water by the summer of 2016.
Parks Department spokeswoman Tara Kiernan, when asked about the project, emailed: "Don't know enough about it to comment."
That doesn't bother Coates. He says that, though he likes the spot off Brooklyn Bridge Park, the pool could also work in other locations. "We've talked to Governor's Island," he said. "We've talked to Hudson River Park Trust. There's an amazing thing right now, a plan called Blue Way on the East Side of Manhattan. So we're looking everywhere and just trying to figure out what makes the most sense."