Exploring Hudson's North Bay and Middle Ground Flats


Paddling north out of the Henry Hudson Riverfront Park in Hudson, I went against the wind along the northern docks of the Hudson Powerboat Association, toward the North Bay, in my kayak. To the west, I saw a bald eagle fly and come to rest on a tree on Middle Ground Flats.

I made my way, paddling along shore, to the small train trestle that feeds water into what was once a bay of the Hudson River and is now more of a wetland receiving tidal injections every six hours through the trestle. (Hudson’s two bays—North and South—were cut off from the main Hudson River by the causeway built for rail in the 1800s.)

Hudson’s North Bay has been in the news lately due to a sewer separation project for which the City of Hudson is slated to receive state grant money. Street runoff during rain storms is proposed to go into the North Bay to lessen combined sewer overflows—generally considered to be the worse of the two evils. But there’s been debate about the true environmental impact on the North Bay. Resident Timothy O’Connor successfully petitioned to have the proposed project environmentally reviewed. The Hudson Common Council, at last week’s meeting, put off a vote to fast-track the project and instead voted to seek a city-commissioned environmental review of the project (more on this can be read on The Gossips of Rivertown: http://bit.ly/1OGH4Cb).

As I entered the North Bay under the train trestle, I passed a man fishing for herring—the primary bait used to lure Striped Bass.

The first thing you see entering the North Bay is the group of small buildings formerly known, alternatively, as the Furgary Boat Club, the North Dock Tin Boat Association and Shantytown.

It’s coming up on three years since the city of Hudson evicted the people who once used the buildings recreationally as fishing cabins. (It’s city land, but a community of fishermen had existed on this spot for more than a hundred years.)

Whether you call them shacks or cabins depends on your perspective. To my eyes, there are five or six cabins and eight or nine shacks among the 15 or so little buildings.

Every time I paddle into the North Bay I find myself wishing there could have been—or could be—some way to find a compromise between the City of Hudson and the people who populated this piece of land.

The clock’s been ticking, the small buildings are falling into disrepair, and no plan for them has been announced by the city.

The story of cultures and aspects of culture dying is one that has repeated itself throughout human history. But the fact that quite a few smart people have been predicting that the story of this century is going to be globalization—a pooling of cultures—may mean that the death of many distinct cultures is destined to become exponentially more common.

To me, the cabins and shacks at the Furgary Boat Club represent a salty bit of Hudson River Americana. A piece of culture, of Old Weird Hudson, that may have slipped through the cracks for good.

I paddled past the cabins, up into the placid reed-filled bay at high tide. There were forgotten docks, renegade plastic barrels and the distant white PVC protrusions from the city’s capped landfill at the northern end of Second Street.

Much of the surrounding land is hoped to be turned into a publically-accessible conservation area by a yet-to-be-determined-exactly partnership between the Columbia Land Conservancy and the City of Hudson.

I wended into dead-end channels in the bay, halted by reeds.

After exploring a half dozen of these little channels, I turned back.

An Amtrak train plunging north along the causeway served as a reminder that this bay is not what it once was.

Back into the Hudson, I wished the striperman luck and crossed the channel to Hudson’s Middle Ground Flats.

Some longtime Hudson residents can tell you about how the Middle Ground Flats —the long strip of an island between Hudson and Athens—used to simply be a sand bar at low tide. The routine of occasionally dredging out the shipping channel and dumping the dredged sediments onto the sand bar resulted in the tree-filled piece of real estate we see today.

The island is owned by New York State and, according to signs posted, is designated a “unique area.” The island has quite a few recreational camping setups and the same part of me that mourns the emptiness of the Furgary hopes that the eight or so cabins on Hudson Middle Ground will be spared from any punitive measures from the state.

I fought against an ebb tide, surveying the state of the camping setups. I paddled past one couple—the woman sitting in the sun and the man fishing, their small motor boat moored just offshore of the island.

Nearing the northern end, I let the tidal ebb spin me around and took the ride back south along the island. I beached to explore at a couple points. Toward the middle of the island, three wild turkeys hobbled away as I approached.

At the southern end I sauntered around the pristine sand beach, breathing in the panoramic views of the Catskills, the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse and the village of Athens. “Camp Swampy. Welcome. Keep Clean. Swamprat Militia.”

I was thinking of going around the lighthouse and exploring South Bay, but instead decided to save that voyage for another day. I paddled east across the channel and then turned northward, toward the boat launch, back against the tide.