About The Hudson River
The Hudson River is a 315-mile river that flows from north to south primarily through eastern New York. It originates in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York and flows southward through the Hudson Valley to the New York Harbor between New York City and Jersey City, eventually draining into the Atlantic Ocean at Lower New York Bay.
The lower half of the river is a tidal estuary, deeper than the body of water into which it flows, occupying the Hudson Fjord, an inlet which formed during the most recent period of North American glaciation, estimated at 26,000 to 13,300 years ago. Even as far north as the city of Troy, the flow of the river changes direction with the tides.
Native tribes had named the river long before Henry Hudson’s arrival. One of their names, Mahicantuck, means “great waters in constant motion” or, more loosely, “river that flows two ways.”
It highlights the fact that this waterway is more than a river-it is a tidal estuary, an arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land.
In 1609 Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for Holland’s East India Company, captained a Dutch ship up this river in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. He referred to the river as the “Manhatees.” Dutch colonists who followed named it “River of the Prince Mauritius” and “North River.”
Hudson’s name wasn’t applied until 1664, as England tried to justify its takeover of the region. The English argued that since the explorer was a subject of England’s king, Hudson’s river belonged to them, not to the Dutch.
Estuaries are among the most productive of Earth’s ecosystems. Native Americans discovered the river’s bounty thousands of years ago; evidence of their repasts remains in heaps of oyster shells on its shores. Hudson and Dutch traders wrote of a river teeming with striped bass, herring, and giant sturgeon.
More than 200 species of fish are found in the Hudson and its tributaries. The estuary’s productivity is ecologically and economically valuable to much of the Atlantic Coast; key commercial and recreational species like striped bass, bluefish, and blue crab depend on nursery habitat here. Bald eagles, herons, waterfowl, and other birds feed from the river’s bounty. Tidal marshes, mudflats, and other significant habitats in and along the estuary support a great diversity of life.
Commerce & Trade
The region’s human residents have also flourished thanks to the Hudson estuary. Its course through the Hudson Highlands, the only sea-level breach in the Appalachian Mountain Range, allowed nineteenth century engineers to realize their visions of links between seacoast and heartland.
The river was a key leg in the transport of goods between New York Harbor and the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal, which made New York the Empire State.
The Hudson eventually became a source of drinking water for cities, process water for industry, recreation for picnickers and boaters, and soul-stirring inspiration for artists.
However, as population increased, the Hudson’s natural resources were abused. Sewage discharges led to high bacteria counts and low oxygen levels.
Valuable wetlands were filled in, scenic vistas desecrated by quarrying, millions of fish killed in cooling water intakes, and food webs contaminated by toxic chemicals.
Returning to Health
Dismayed at this abuse, citizens took action. In the late nineteenth century, New York and New Jersey residents mounted an interstate effort to preserve the Palisades cliffs.
In the 1960s the battle to save Storm King Mountain in the Highlands helped found today’s national environmental movement. New York voters passed a bond act for sewage cleanup in 1965; the federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972. These measures significantly improved water quality in the Hudson estuary. The Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and other preserves were established to protect critical wetland habitat.
Today the Hudson River is one of the healthiest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast. Its rich history and striking environmental recovery have made it one of the nation’s fourteen American Heritage Rivers.
Founded by Pete and Toshi Seeger, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. has been at the forefront of the environmental movement as champion of the Hudson River. The organization has worked to pass landmark legislation like the Clean Water Act, and providing innovative educational programs, environmental advocacy, and musical celebrations, including the renowned annual Clearwater Festival, to inspire, educate, and activate millions of people.
The organization began in 1966, a time when the Hudson was rank with raw sewage, toxic chemicals and oil pollution. Musician and activist Pete Seeger along with several friends had a vision to build a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries that would bring people to the river where they could experience its beauty and be moved to preserve it. Inspired by that vision, the organization began with the launch of the sloop Clearwater in 1969, a majestic 106-foot long replica vessel that is recognized today as America’s Environmental Flagship. Read more on their website, click here.
Today, Clearwater is carrying forward the enrironmental legacy, partnering with schools and community leaders to raise the bar of environmental education, realizing that this time the health of the Hudson River must go hand in hand with creating a sustainable world of green jobs in a green economy. Clearwater’s unique approach to public outreach has made the sloop Clearwater a symbol of grassroots action through hands-on learning, music and celebration.