Decades have passed since advocates began their push to rid the Hudson River of industrial waste, and the city has worked to beautify Manhattan’s once-desolate West Side with grassy parkland for joggers and bicyclists.
So why not add a beach?
Some state officials and environmentalists want to develop one along the river just steps from the Meatpacking District when a city sanitation department depot relocates by 2012.
The plan faces technical and regulatory hurdles and could take years to complete, but perhaps the most daunting challenge will be persuading locals and tourists alike to take a dip in the river, with its reputation as a floating funeral home and garbage dump.
“Haven’t they found bodies out here?” asked Sephora Rosario, 32, staring out at the choppy water not too far from where she grew up. “Who would jump in there?”
It’s safe, if ...
Often, those quickest to dive in are the environmental advocates who say the Hudson River is far cleaner than it has been for most of the last few hundred years.
“I’ll swim in the Hudson now,” said Carter Craft, director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which works to increase funding for city water access and ecological protection. “It’s safe if you know what you’re doing.”
Advocates warn that swimmers must stay out of the river for several days after rainfall — when the city’s drainage system dumps raw sewage directly into the Hudson. Within a three-minute walk from the proposed Hudson River Park beach site, muddy discharge is visible around one of the pipes.
Craft and other advocates say the sewage isn’t usually a problem and any future beach could simply be closed after storms. But city regulations are more stringent, requiring that beaches be at least 500 feet from overflow pipes. One rule prohibits any beach along Manhattan’s West side.
Analysts with the state’s Hudson River Estuary Program know that such city regulations can be overturned. They included the local proposal in a study of 13 possible Hudson River beach sites between New York City and the upstate city of Troy. The Hudson River Park Trust is considering including the beach alongside a grassy park area they plan to create on the proposed site.
For now, the site is hardly a place to relax. It has long been a depot for garbage trucks, and people hurry past to avoid the smell. One day workers might cart in loads of sand, but currently the north side of the outcropping is covered with sharp rocks and jagged wooden stakes.
Such eyesores haven’t stopped Craft from swimming in the river’s dark waters.
“We’ll be getting in the Hudson,” Craft said of his summer plans. “Why go to the beach when there’s water at the end of your street?”