Dear Clearwater,

In 2010 I participated in the Young Women at the Helm program. I often credit that experience as one of the starting points of my environmental education journey that has propelled so much of my advocacy work, including the pursuit of multiple environmental degrees and my continued desire to make environmentalism feel accessible, inclusive, and fun for everyone. Currently, I am an environmental educator, event coordinator, and consultant with a focus on environmental justice. I’m the host of a podcast called The Joy Report all about positive climate solutions, and I have a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies with a concentration in Political Ecology, a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy, and a law degree focused on Civil Rights and Environmental Justice. All my work aims at educating and empowering individuals and organizations to get involved in climate action while centering joy and radical imagination in activism.

I was born and raised in Albany, New York, mostly on the South End where the Hudson River is quite visible and accessible, but few dare to venture in. Growing up, I took walks and runs along the river paths and spent countless Thursday summer evenings at the Corning Preserve for Alive at Five, the city’s free concert series. I even spent time on boats in the Hudson on multiple occasions– attending parties, events, and tours on The Dutch Apple Cruise, Captain JP, the USS Slater, and of course, the beloved and now-retired Aqua Ducks. However, none of these experiences could have prepared me for my time on Sloop Clearwater.

While the Young Women at the Helm program was for 15-18-year-olds, my mom was a chaperone for the group from Albany so I was fortunate enough to attend at age 12. My mom became a chaperone due to her friendship with one of my most impactful mentors, the late Brother Yusuf Burgess, who was a massive advocate for accessible outdoor experiences, getting inner-city and nature-deprived youth outside, and the Clearwater. There were so many unforgettable moments during my time on the sloop– from creating a shower with a hose and a very long tarp, camping near West Point, running aground on one of the hottest days that summer, catching a sturgeon (people still freak out when I tell them that), and so much more. This was my first time spending time with nature so intentionally, and I thought the fact that the crew got to live like this all the time was the coolest thing ever.

The crew’s passion for this work was contagious, and the experiences I had while on that sloop are ones I will cherish forever, largely in part because of the incredible staff who helped make the experience possible. It was my first time putting on a pair of waders and learning about river ecology. It was also the first time that I learned about all the restoration work that has taken place in the Hudson. My mom is from Brooklyn, so I grew up believing that the Hudson River was something nice to look at but never to spend time in if I didn’t want my skin to glow. Thinking back, I’m grateful we were both able to participate in the Clearwater program together since it created an opportunity for unlearning some misconceptions and myths about the incredible waterway. I also learned about way more than just river ecology during my few days on the Hudson. I helped with chores on the ship that were necessary to ensure it functioned properly and everyone could have the safest time possible. I was frequently reminded of the values of working together to make things happen, and song to help pass the time.

Soon after this experience, I attended my first sleepaway camp. It was in the Catskills at a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-sponsored location called Camp Debruce, and my time at camp rounded out what I now affectionately call my “summer of environmental awakening”. Between these two experiences and the continued mentorship of Brother Yusuf and others, I discovered the true beauty of this Earth, which helped my life trajectory a little clearer because no matter what I wanted to help protect this gorgeous planet. I will never forget the day a video from the Clearwater team appeared on my TikTok “for you page” a few years ago. I hadn’t seen the sloop in YEARS, and I was glad to see that it was still sailing and that the Clearwater was still helping people realize the beauty that abounds right in our backyards. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to share about my time with Clearwater over a decade later.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater has demonstrated tremendous success in creating accessible informational resources and experiences for all ages, and my dream is for that to continue and expand. I would like for Clearwater to be a household name. How cool would it be for every kid in New York state to say that they’ve been on the sloop at least once by the time they turn 21, and for every New Yorker to have a more positive perception of the Hudson? Think of the impact. I’m sure there are countless stories of people like me who spent time on that sloop and it made them look at the world differently. Maybe they overcame their fear of being on boats, maybe they touched Hudson River water for the first time, or maybe being on the water provided them with a sense of peace they haven’t been able to experience in years. Creating those opportunities is what radical imagination is all about– seeing the world as it is and believing different and better is possible.

At a time when young people are increasingly suffering from depression and anxiety surrounding their futures and the state of the world, as adults we must continue to show them that change is possible and solutions already exist by introducing them to people and places where change is happening. Clearwater is one of those places.

Arielle

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