Sunday, April 11, 2004
Secaucus Reporter
Front page


The bottom of the boat

Riverkeeper and friends to get ready for summer eco-tour season

By Dan Hoffman



Taking another step towards the launch of the 2004 boating season, Hackensack Riverkeeper employees and volunteers will trek out to Lake Hopatcong to scrape last years barnacles off of their two eco-tour pontoon boats.

The two boats, the Robert Boyle and the Edward Abbey, are dry-docked for the winter, sitting in the parking lot of a Lake Hopatcong marina located 40 miles west of Secaucus.

Riverkeeper staff members expect 10 to 15 people to gather Tuesday for the annual ritual.

"It's not a job for the faint of heart," said volunteer Richard Dwyer. "You really have to roll your sleeves up, get dirt under your fingernails and scrub away."

What is the problem?

The water of the tidal portion of the Hackensack River is brackish, which is a combination of salt and fresh water. Barnacles and other boat-fouling agents live in the water, attaching to the bottom of vessels as they sit in the water through the summer.

Barnacles are a shell species which release millions of larvae. The animals attach themselves to solid, non moving objects, such as docked boats, where they can absorb nutrients that float through the water. Boat hulls are also fertile grounds for algae and other growth.

Riverkeeper Program Director Hugh Carola believes that the barnacles are a positive indicator of the improving condition of the Hackensack River

"Years ago, people used to keep boats on the Hackensack River because no barnacles would grow," Carola said, adding that polluted waters can be toxic to aquatic life.

It is important to keep the hull clean because the barnacles make it more difficult to steer a boat and can bring extra weight to a boat, causing it to sit lower in the water. The chemicals secreted by the organisms can also cause damage and add drag to the hull, reducing speed and fuel efficiency.

Cleaning the boats

The volunteers will first scrub off the top of the boats where people sit for the tours. Next, they scrape, wash and paint the pontoons. The boats are only cleaned in the spring, so they can get dirty over the winter.

"Anyone can do it," said Lisa Kelly, Riverkeeper Development Director. "Anyone who can get on their back and lay under the boat."

The Riverkeeper organization notified the volunteers about the cleanup through their e-mail list. Kelly said a range of people come to the event.

"It's great for people of all ages," said Kelly. "I brought my kids, ages 6 and 8, last year. It's a great atmosphere, boats on a lake. My son was doing a bit of fishing. There were ducks and geese around it. It was the first day to really get outside and spend outside."

Lake Hopatcong is a freshwater lake with homes lining the shore, making for a boating and fishing environment. The day is also fun for adults.

"You've gotta have beer when you scrape off those boats," Carola said.

The ecotours

The Boyle and the Abbey were both named after environmentally-focused writers. Robert Boyle, who wrote about fishing for Sports Illustrated, was the founder of the Riverkeeper program.

"He brought the problems with the Hudson River to light, and that led to the Riverkeeper program," said Kelly. Edward Abbey wrote ecological advocacy-themed fiction.

The eco-tours take riders on a two hour tour along a seven-mile stretch of river between Little Ferry and Jersey City, highlighting wildlife found in areas like Bellman's Creek, Chromakill Creek, Mill Creek Marsh, Kingsland Creek, Berry's Creek, and Berry's Creek Canal. They launch out of Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus.

The river is part of the community

Dwyer, who works as PSE&G's public affairs manager, said that the Hackensack River can add a new life perspective to residents of urban areas.

"Culturally, socially, and recreationally, Hudson County residents have not been allowed to use the local waterways for several generations," said Dwyer. "In urban areas, there is a diverse population and there is always going to be a difference of opinion of issues. But when you see the value of the environment, everyone agrees on clean air, clean water and clean land."

Dwyer plans to bring his 8-year-old son, who he said appreciates the quickly improving ecological conditions of the Hackensack River.

"Last year we went to Point Pleasant," said Dwyer. "He didn't catch a single fish. He came home and was upset, so we went to the Hackensack River and caught 12 fish in less than an hour."

He feels that involving his son teaches him the importance of getting involved.

"Too many people say 'They should do something. They should clean up the river.'" said Dwyer. "He's learning to do things for himself, instead of looking to someone else to solve problems. He's learning to be part of the solution."

Open Eco-cruises start May 8. For information about tours or the boat cleanup, call Hugh Carola at 201-968-0808 or visit



Return to HRI in the News


Riverkeeper Home