Once the ropes had been tied and the people disembarked, HRMM Executive Director Kate Mitchell, standing at a dais with the bow of the sloop in the background, made a long-anticipated announcement: the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the boards of the HRMM and Clearwater to jointly construct a boat shop and education center on the museum grounds. Besides hosting a boat-construction program for youth, the 4,000-square-foot facility, to be situated on the western portion of the museum property, just shy of the shadow of the 9W bridge, would also serve as a repair shop for the sloop, she said.
In effect, the HRMM will serve as the winter port for the Clearwater. While the tall ship has been wending its way up and down the Hudson during the warm months ever since it was launched in 1966 by folk singer and environmental activist Pete Seeger, as both a symbol and a means of saving the befouled Hudson, it has never had a permanent winter berth — until now. (The administration offices of the non-profit environmental organization are based in Beacon; the sloop itself has spent its winters in Saugerties.)
Under the terms of the agreement, the building will be leased to Clearwater by the Maritime, although it will also provide additional storage space for the museum’s archives and collection of more than 20,000 artifacts. The agreement is expected to benefit Clearwater, the museum, and especially, the City of Kingston, which is a participant in Clearwater’s Green Cities initiative. (Specifically, Clearwater is working with the city and local environmental groups to design a project to help reduce the city’s polluted storm water runoff into the creek; the new facility would provide a venue for Green Cities community workshops.)
Mitchell credited Russell Lange, former executive director of the HRMM, and HRMM board member Dr. Jack Weeks, a primary care physician in Kingston, with hatching the idea three years ago. She also thanked Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who was not present, for his support. Cahill was instrumental in securing a $125,000 grant for the initiative.
Another key supporter of the Kingston waterfront generally has been U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who, though he said his schedule had prevented him from boarding the Clearwater for the sail from Poughkeepsie to Kingston, was present for the announcement. He said it was the launch of the Clearwater more than 30 years ago that set in motion the cleanup of the Hudson, which has culminated in the current, multi-million-dollar dredging to remove toxic PCBs deposited by General Electric from the river’s sediment. (Hinchey said phase two is about to get underway.)
Hinchey characterized the joint venture as “an economic engine and environmental resource for the region,” adding “unquestionably this collaboration will help propel the Hudson River Maritime Museum to be one of the river’s premier ports.” He also pledged to work with both organizations to provide needed funding.
Other speakers were Fran Dunwell, who oversees the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program for Region 3, based in New Paltz; Steve Finkle, economic development director for the city of Kingston; the executive director of Clearwater, Jeff Rumpf; and both organizations’ board presidents, Steve Digilio at the HRMM and Allan Shope of Clearwater.
Shope said the design work for the building, which would be in the form of a timber-frame barn, was already underway. Prefab pieces would be assembled in Dutchess County over the winter and brought to the HRMM next April, with a crew of volunteers raising the structure in one day. “It’ll be usable by the next River Day,” Shope promised.
According to Rumpf, the total cost of the facility comes in at $1 million, although the actual amount spent will be less, thanks to the donation of timbers, pro bono architectural design work and volunteer help. He said the two organizations already have more than half that amount, including the Cahill grant and support from private donors.
Rumpf played up the grass roots nature of the project: “The community will build it,” he said. That approach, he explained, is the only way for non-profits to survive and thrive in today’s economic climate. “Change won’t happen from one guy at the top. The top-down comes with strings attached, while the bottom-up approach builds for the future.”
Besides adopting a populist approach, the other obvious factor that has made such a project possible is partnering. Rumpf pointed out people in the audience who represented other groups with an environmental or economic stake in the area, including John Lipscomb, patrol boat captain for Riverkeeper, and Vince Cozzolino, founder and CEO of The Solar Energy Consortium, a consortium dedicated to making the mid Hudson Valley a manufacturing center for alternative energies.
Another partner is the DEC. Dunwell said the DEC has played a role in the repair of bulkheads and docks at the HRMM. She said a $70,000 grant was expected to be forthcoming in support of the Green Cities program, which would pay for rain gardens and possibly other infrastructure to help the city of Kingston reduce its storm water runoff.
Rumpf said that having the Clearwater based in Kingston over the winter would help boost the local Green Cities program. He added that educating kids about the value of the environment is necessary to create the environmental leaders of tomorrow. Clearwater currently serves over 15,000 kids, an educational initiative that will be amplified by the collaboration with the HRMM, with its focus on maritime history.
“If this is done right, Kingston will be a model city in the next 20 years,” Rumpf told the crowd. “The rest of the nation will say, ‘how did they do that?’ We’re two organizations that are putting our money where our mouth is. We’ll be launching boats young people will build. We’ll design and build the green navy right here.”
Digilio said he viewed the joint venture as the first step in a long-term plan to attract more historic vessels to the HRMM docks. “Our vision is to make Kingston a river port,” he said. “This is stage one. When boats come, people come.”
He said that various ideas had been batted around after Lange and Weeks came up with the idea of berthing the Clearwater at the HRMM. “[Clearwater’s] most urgent need was a boat shop for repairs. Other options that were explored didn’t work out, so we went back to the idea of constructing a facility, where we could have an educational program.”
Digilio said the importance of bringing the Clearwater to Kingston represented a significant change in approach by the HRMM. “For years, that” — he pointed to the façade on East Strand — “was the front of the property, designed to bring people from the city to the water. But there’s been a change of focus, to the water side of the property. What we need to do is bring people from the water to the city.” That’s the way it always was, and the presence of a tall ship at the docks during the winter will certainly be a powerful symbol indicating that’s the way it will be again.