Dear Clearwater,

I remember my first trip with my students on the Clearwater and how much the integrative, hands-on experience excited and empowered even the weakest of science students. To prepare for each sail, students viewed documentaries like “The Power of Song” or “‘Til the River Runs Clean,” while becoming familiar with the Hudson River ecology in the lab – identifying fish species and doing water chemistry tests. But no amount of preparation could match the experience of taking them out of the classroom, out of the urban setting of New York City and onto the river aboard the Clearwater

What an amazing opportunity for students to “learn while doing,” interacting with the Captain and the crew to steer the vessel and navigate the river, learn about Clearwater’s legacy, and feel a sense of urgency to protect the Hudson River. As excited as my students became after the trip, the annual experience aboard the sloop always renewed my own personal sense of urgency as an educator teaching about environmental issues, especially our oceans and rivers.

Over the decades, Clearwater has become a big part of my life, but it’s not where my story begins. I was lucky to be able to study marine biology in Germany, becoming a Fishery Biologist evaluating fish stocks in the early seventies, working on research vessels from the Baltic Sea to Greenland and Labrador. Later, I moved to the U.S., conducting environmental impact studies at the New England Aquarium and going on sampling trips out of Woods Hole where I encountered the sail boats of the Sea Education Association. I worked on Westward and Corwith Cramer for 7 summers, teaching high school students and teachers about marine and oceanographic research. 

It was during those summers that I got to know the history of the Clearwater, and its mission of being a “Classroom of the Waves.” I was fascinated by what Pete Seeger had created out of concern for the pollution devastating the Hudson River at the time. When I moved to New York City, I began teaching biology and environmental science with the educational philosophy of “learning while doing.” My approach aligned with Clearwater’s program, promoted by the idea that musical harmony brings people together to work on a common goal. Who could not be inspired while lifting a 3000-pound sail in unity or during the moment of silence to appreciate the river, broken with songs played by the Clearwater crew? 

As a teacher, I was able to make the “Clearwater Ecology Trip” part of the school’s curriculum every year, first at the Marymount School for 5 years and at the United Nations International School for 28 years. Some of my students even went on to volunteer on the Clearwater, excited about its mission! As a member, I remained connected to Clearwater outside of the classroom, attending many Revivals, listening to Pete’s “Blessing of the Water,” his music, visiting him many Novembers at Carnegie Hall, and attending the Op-Sail 2000 sailing up the river! 

Though I retired this year from teaching, I hope I helped to ignite a similar urgency in all of my students and my successor that I always felt for a field trip aboard the Clearwater. Whatever it might be, I will do my best to continue to promote the legacy of Pete Seeger – taking friends out on public sails, attending sloop festivals, and maybe even volunteering – appreciating the years of having felt right at home on the Clearwater.

Elke Bergholz