Wallkill River Festival highlight water pollution



(Photo by Julie O’Connor)

There was a time when people could swim in the Wallkill River, says Martha Cheo, member of the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance. She references a circa-1925 photograph in the Elting Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd collection that depicts swimmers from “Camp Wallkill” diving into the river in New Paltz. “It’s inspirational. This is what we want to have in our community again. The pool is great, but a lot of people like fresh water. And if we could have that again, it would be a dream.”

To raise awareness of the environmental issues plaguing the river and to get more people involved in their work to clean it up, the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance is hosting the inaugural Wallkill River Festival this Saturday, October 7 from 2-6 p.m. at New Paltz Gardens for Nutrition, 51 Huguenot Street. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted. (The rain date is Sunday, October 8.)

With the public’s help, Cheo says, the Wallkill River could once again be a beautiful local resource for paddling, fishing and swimming. “It’s a big job trying to figure out what the sources of pollution are, and how we can work together to prevent them. But while the river needs help, we also need to be positive about what we do have.”


The festival is intended to be a time for the community to come together to celebrate the river and to inspire people to work together to restore it as an ecological and recreational resource.

The event will open with a blessing of the river by Turtle Clan Chief Vincent Mann of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. It will be a participatory ceremony; anyone who attends can be involved.

Carl Welden will act as emcee, with three local bands providing entertainment on the hour, beginning with the mellow Celtic tunes of The Wild Swan Band at 3 p.m. followed by Ashes of the Phoenix from New Paltz Rock at 4 p.m., and the Yard Sale band at 5 p.m.

A raffle ticket for a chance to win goods and services donated by local businesses costs $1, or six tickets for $5.

Food will be available for purchase from Gomen Kudasai and Jamaican Choice Caribbean Cuisine.

This photo is from Camp Wallkill, which operated in the 1920’s. The Wallkill River Watershed Alliance’s long-term goal is to make the Wallkill River swimmable again. (courtesy of Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection)

Hands-on activities for kids will include the opportunity to observe and touch live critters from the streams up at the Mohonk Preserve. Mad Science of the Mid-Hudson will offer engaging science-based activities about reducing river pollution, and the Bruderhof Community will be on hand to provide face-painting with a water theme.

The Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission will collaborate with the Alliance on a 3D “enviro-scape,” a hands-on model that allows kids to literally “make it rain,” says Cheo, providing a visual on how pollution moves through a watershed and ends up in the river.

Attendees will be invited to take a riparian tree walk with Tom O’Dowd of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, to identify the trees along the river and learn about their importance in filtering runoff laden with pollution. “One of the best things you can do for a river’s health is to keep it planted with native vegetation,” says Cheo. “It acts as a buffer to keep pollutants from entering the river and surrounding landscape.”

The Wallkill Alliance Science Working Group and Riverkeeper will be among the organizations giving information about watershed conservation and providing the latest updates on the current environmental state of the river. Representatives of the Ulster County Soil & Water Conservation District will showcase some of the programs they do with farmers and the greater community, and the New York State Department of Health will inform people about fish-eating advisories. New Paltz Climate Action Coalition and the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline will be represented as well.

The festival will also feature a “Wet Paint” silent auction of watershed landscape paintings by local artists. Proceeds will be split 50/50 between the Alliance and the artists. The works may be painted on site during the festival or be something created two years ago, or two hours earlier that morning, says Cheo. Because the entire idea of the festival is to celebrate the river and inspire the public to protect and restore it, what better way is there to do that, she adds, “than to have the beautiful artwork of local artists on display to inspire us.”

Participating artists will create their own interpretation of the Wallkill River Watershed. That could be anything from imagery of a rock formation or tree to a representation of any of the aspects of the watershed: the headwaters in New Jersey, the agricultural black dirt region of Orange County that the river flows through, the Shawangunk Mountain streams that flow into the Wallkill or the main river that flows through Ulster County.

Artists interested in participating should contact the Wallkill River School of Art at (845) 457-2787 or visit www.wallkillriverschool.com. More information about the Wallkill River Festival may be found by visiting www.wallkillalliance.org or www.facebook.com/wallkillriver. ++