For the past twelve years the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla has been an annual celebration of an ever-more revitalized Bronx River, with as many as 70 canoes and kayaks all proceeding downstream from Shoelace Park to the Bronx River Estuary. On this joyous occasion marking the Alliance’s tenth anniversary, though, we might pause to recall some earlier canoe trips along the Bronx River.
Perhaps the first publicized paddling trip took place on April 12, 1970. As part of an effort to call attention to the river’s neglected condition and the need for cooperation between their two counties, Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams and Westchester County Executive Alfred Del Bello set out to paddle a mini-flotilla from Westchester to the Bronx. Crisply attired in dress shirts and neckties, the two executives didn’t get far before they collided with another canoe and got stuck on a midstream sandbar.
A few years later the newly-formed Bronx River Restoration Project launched a more ambitious expedition. Led by Bronx Historical Society Executive Director Gary Hermalyn, the canoers set out from the Bronx River’s headwaters at Valhalla on April 11, 1977, and after two days of paddling and some epic portaging, made their way to Clason’s Point. The Restoration Project followed up with another trip the following year, starting at Valhalla on April 29, 1978 and working their way down to White Plains. They resumed the trip the next day, and after a full day of paddling and portaging finished at Harding Park.
Conditions on the river have greatly improved since that first attempted paddle over forty years ago. As we enjoy this year’s Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, we should salute those pioneer “voyageurs” who first dared to paddle an unrestored Bronx River.
Stephen Paul DeVillo