Festival draws crowds to Harlem River

Spectators watched as Kim Quillin (far right) and Lauren Hallett (third from right) competed in a logrolling competition at the Harlem River Festival on Oct. 20 at Roberto Clemente State Park.

Weeklong celebration aims to get residents on the river

Morris Heights resident Michael Mitchell watched with a smile as his young daughters prepared for their fifth canoe ride of the day on the Harlem River.

“Look how their faces light up when they’re getting in a boat,” said Mitchell, 33, who lives in the adjacent River Park Towers complex. “These are city kids, so they don’t get to experience any of that.”

Mitchell’s daughters were among some 400 revelers who attended the Harlem River Festival at Roberto Clemente State Park on a warm Saturday afternoon in October that capped off a week of activities along the usually-quiet waterfront.

They watched logrolling competitions and musical performances, rode in canoes, painted a waterfront-inspired mural. and learned about the river.

Organizers of the weeklong festival hope it will help residents gain awareness of the waterfront many who live next to it have no connection to.

“Most of the kids don’t know the name of the river,” said Chauncy Young, 37, a Highbridge resident and community advocate. “It’s amazing to say that you live right by the river, but that you don’t know anything about it.”

Young is part of The Harlem River Working Group, a coalition of Bronx organizations pushing to increase waterfront access for Bronx residents. The group celebratedthe completion of the Harlem River Greenway Vision, a detailed “greenprint” for a series of paths they say will connect parks and bike lanes along the Bronx shoreline of the Harlem River.

“It’s good because the parents, they cannot afford to do a lot of things, so this is perfect for them,” said Beatriz Romero, 37, orf Melrose. “It’s not far, it’s convenient and it’s free.”

Romero, a school safety agent, brought her children to the festival after hearing about it at work. Students at local schools participated in events at the festival all week long, learning about water quality and the ecology of the river while playing.

“There was a big fear factor for a lot of the kids, going out on the water for the first time. A lot of them were petrified, and maybe not sure they want to go out,” said Jerry Willis, who works for the National Parks Service’s Rivers and Trails program. But when the children came back, Willis said, they were more excited than afraid.

As the organizations began packing up their displays at the end of the afternoon, two-dozen residents still stood on the shore, waiting to go out on the river.

“We live in an urban city environment, so this is the only type of wilderness type of experience they get without needing to go upstate or something,” said Mitchell, whose daughters had just pushed off from the dock.

“We don’t get to do this that often,” he added. “We have all of this stuff here, so why wouldn’t they be able to do it?”

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