Carbon-Neutral Shipping on the Hudson

These days the Hudson River can feel like a car barrier — something to cross on a bridge or drive alongside. But originally this curving waterway was the region’s superhighway.

A pilot project is nudging the Hudson Valley to return to river transport — in a carbon-neutral way — with sail freight. The captain behind the project, Sam Merrett, is an avid young sailor who has been carefully restoring a 68,000-pound steel schooner called the Apollonia for the last four years. 

Apollonia sailing alongside Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

The Apollonia was scheduled to begin its first cargo runs from upriver to New York City in summer 2020. Although the launch was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merrett teamed up with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in the meantime for the North River Sail. The joint educational sail went up and down the Hudson in June 2020 with the museum’s sun-powered Solaris boat. 

Together, the vessels raised awareness of the river’s transportation history — and future potential. Both are pioneering. The Solaris is the first 100 percent solar-powered tour boat to earn U.S. Coast Guard certification, according to the museum.

Apollonia docked at the George Trakas environmental sculpture at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

The 64-foot Apollonia is the Hudson’s largest zero-carbon freight vessel, running on sail power and a backup diesel engine that Merrett converted to run on vegetable oil. 

Sail, of course, is the age-old method of transporting goods worldwide. Fuel-powered barges and then trucks now do the lion’s share of global shipping. But in the age of climate change, emissions-free sail power is getting a fresh look. 

Modern-day sail freight projects similar to the Apollonia have been happening in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts over the past few years. More sail-freight ships are now popping up in places like Costa Rica, and the International Windship Association has been tracking technology that helps even container barges run partially on wind power, saving fuel.

Crew members unloading freight from Apollonia at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

Merrett took inspiration from all those vessels, as well as from the short-haul river shipping that remains common in Europe and elsewhere. Especially for products that aren’t rushed, he argues, sail freight makes sense. “This is the original alternative fuel,” Merrett says. “It’s not just an idea of the past.” 

When it began carrying goods, the Apollonia’s hold smelled rugged and woodsy, with a sweet tang. Merrett carries a number of traditional New York products like hard cider, IPA, maple syrup, Christmas trees, firewood, and bluestone from upstate into NYC. Its first cargo sail was scheduled to be with Nine Pin Cider.

Why would a producer choose sail freight? Some products (like a nontraditional one, fermenting kimchi) improve with age and waves. In other cases, the producer may value the zero-emissions transport. Many artisanal makers are proud of their organic or fair trade production, after all, but don’t realize carbon-neutral shipping could be possible. The Apollonia even has its own delivery tricycle that can take products from dock to city.

Apollonia docked. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

Being able to market a product for its carbon-neutral shipping will add marketing value for customers, too, Merrett argues. “The standard shipping world is about delivering the same thing that left,” he says. “We’re saying let’s improve this product along the way. We will provide conscientious producers and consumers with a transportation model that reflects their values.”

The Apollonia and projects like it may seem niche and bespoken, Merrett acknowledges. But as global emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic show, having alternatives is always helpful. And pilots like this may be able work out some of the kinks, enabling more low-emissions vessels to get sailing more quickly if the need is ever upon us.

HV’s Own Local Currency

by Laura Covello

What if there were one easy way to put more food on the table for less money, grow your business while reducing expenditures, experience more of the natural and cultural riches of the Hudson Valley, and support local nonprofits? Shopping with the Hudson Valley Current, our very own local currency, can do all this.

There are upwards of 100 local currencies in the United States, and our is a project of a nonprofit by the same name, the Hudson Valley Current  (HVC). Hundreds of area businesses already accept Currents, and according to HVC records, in the last three years Current transactions have grown exponentially.

Started exclusively as a digital currency, a beautiful paper version celebrating the natural beauty of the valley was introduced in 2019. (Photo: Chris Hewitt)

In addition to issuing Currents, the organization functions as a barter facilitation platform. Members offer their services or products — or items they don’t need — in exchange for Currents. They then spend their Currents on the goods and services offered by other members, who in turn spend the Currents at other local businesses, and so on. This creates new reciprocal networks and new unsolicited business.

Reinvesting the Currents in local businesses strengthens the local economy is strengthened through what economists call the “multiplier effect.” An increase in spending produces an increase in both income and consumption greater than the initial amount spent.

Membership is free and comes with 300 Currents to get you started. (One Current is equivalent to one dollar.)

Money Without a Bank

While using a local currency has elements of micro-lending, “We’re not a bank; we don’t charge interest,” says Chris Hewitt, the organization’s executive director. “We’re a nonprofit; anything we make has to go back into the system.”

This sometimes takes the form of donations to other local nonprofits with complementary missions, such as the African Roots Center, Community Action, Kingston Midtown Rising, Seed Song Center, and Wild Earth. HVC also partners with some of these organizations on ambitious revitalization projects — such as a food security initiative in Kingston’s Ponckhockie district that is set to launch in 2020.

Hewitt also explains, “We don’t offer lines of credit. What we  offer are lines of trust. This is a mutual credit system, based on reciprocity, which is not how a bank operates.”

To create a stable system without the backing of a bank, the organization has created several stabilizing mechanisms to prevent this micro-economy from collapsing, including creative use of advertising in their publication, Livelihood Magazine. A non-member restaurant, for example, can pay for ads with gift cards that are then sold to members for Currents. This has a ripple effect: the member benefits from access to a new venue they can pay (indirectly) in Currents. The restaurant benefits from any new business generated by the advertisement — and may also get additional new customers if the member dines with clients or friends.

Moving Beyond Ulster County

The HVC began in Ulster County in 2013, and while most of its membership is still there, that is changing. The organization is continually negotiating with established businesses in other counties to become what Hewitt calls “satellites,” businesses that partner with HVC to become anchors in their communities. Hawthorne Valley Farm in Columbia is a recent example. They accept Currents in their store, they pay willing employees partially in Currents, and they now host “Current events” on-site.

These events, such as a pizza party (with safe distancing), give locals a chance to learn about both the farm’s store and Currents—and to have some much-needed fun and community connection.

Community connection is both the reason for and the driver of the HVC. In a region as rich in talent and natural resources as ours, there is no real limit to what can be acquired with Currents.

That’s not hyperbole. The organization frequently acts as a matchmaker.

If a member needs a product or service — say, toner cartridges or lawnmower repair — David Cagan, Director of Member Engagement, will make it his mission to recruit new members who can meet that need.

Since COVID-19, the two primary needs in the Currents community have been food and housing. In response, HVC launched an online Resilience Marketplace offering food from farms, restaurants, caterers, and stores. They have also negotiated with landlords in Beacon, Kingston, and Poughkeepsie about taking rent payments in Currents.

In addition, they are launching a Currents Community Protection Plan (CCPP), a locally focused response to the CARES act and the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) that will offer Current lines of trust up to $100,000 with no interest or fees and free training in establishing exchange circles for key organizations and agencies

For more information on the CCPP, Currents, or other Hudson Valley Current programs, visit

It’s a Good Time to Bike

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

With May being National Bike Month — and in light of current challenges, including crowded parks — there couldn’t be a better time to test out the wisdom of Sherlock Holmes’ creator and resort to pedal power.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • It’s a great way to practice social distancing while getting much-needed exercise.
  • It saves $ on gas.
  • It lowers your carbon footprint, helping to combat climate change.
  • It eliminates worries about finding an open parking space at your destination.
  • It helps us safeguard important habitats in our parks by reducing the potential for cars to park in undesignated areas.
  • It’s fun!

Biking In, To and Between Our Parks

In honor of National Bike Month — and to encourage more visitors to pedal to our parks — we’re working to provide bike racks in additional trailhead parking areas. We’ll also update our park listings to note where racks are available.

At the same time, great opportunities exist to pedal in, to and between our parks. For example, Franny Reese State Park in Lloyd is connected to Walkway Over the Hudson and long-distance rail trails on both sides of the span. In Beacon, the mile-long Klara Sauer Trail links Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park to our Madam Brett Park. And our Illinois Mountain and Shaupeneak Ridge preserves in Ulster County feature popular — and challenging — mountain-biking routes.

Finally, we’ve made it a snap to discover more fun, off-road places to pedal all over the valley via our Outdoor Adventures feature.

Whether on a flat road or a hilly trail, there’s no time like the present to “go out for a spin.”

STAY SAFE: Health experts recommend that bikers should stay 30 feet apart if pedaling slowly and 60 feet if pedaling hard. They also advise moving to a different lane at least 60 feet prior to passing. In addition, Scenic Hudson recommends that bikers refrain from riding in groups.

Beacon Shines

Main Street, Beacon, NY

The City of Beacon (Dutchess County) continues earning its stripes as a beacon for a sustainable future. It is one of fewer than 40 municipalities across the state to receive bronze certification as a Climate Smart Community. Its commitment to embracing renewable energy includes partnering with a developer to create a solar farm on the site of its former landfill. And now it has become just the second municipality in New York (after NYC) to adopt the state’s new Stretch Energy Code, dubbed NYStretch.

As its name implies, NYStretch helps cities and towns expand (or “stretch”) energy efficiency by adopting more stringent construction standards for new and renovated structures. Taking this voluntary step offers a win-win — supporting efforts to combat climate change while cutting down on energy costs. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which developed NYStretch, estimates that cost savings from adopting the code could exceed 10%.

“While some of Beacon’s new projects already use more energy efficient construction, adopting NYStretch for all new buildings and renovations will both improve our environment and save residents money over time,” says Mayor Lee Kyriacou. “Beacon is proud to be a New York leader in addressing climate change and environmental sustainability.”

Park Alternatives

With the nicer weather, more and more people are heading out to popular parks and trails, making it more difficult to practice social distancing guidelines. If you’d like to skip the parks, here are some alternatives for enjoying safe outdoor exercise that offer a change of pace to well-trod paths.

Home turf: Walking your local streets gets you out to exercise, saves on gas and allows you to keep track of what’s what in your neighborhood. If you have a favorite route, consider doing it in reverse. You’ll see things in a whole new perspective.

Country roads: Do a Robert Frost and take the road “less traveled by.” Ambling down one of the valley’s innumerable rural (public) byways, you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the countryside—wildflowers, cows, stone walls, a historic farmhouse or two, and lots of fresh air.

Cemeteries: Precursors of municipal parks, 19th-century rural cemeteries were designed to meet the psychological and recreational needs of communities. Historic cemeteries in Albany, Middletown, Poughkeepsie, Troy and other valley cities feature winding roads, an arboretum’s worth of trees and shrubs, picturesque ponds and fascinating funerary art. Meandering through one will indeed soothe body and soul.

Mall parking lots: If it’s pure aerobic exercise you crave, a power walk as opposed to a leisurely ramble through nature, these now-empty expanses of asphalt should fit the bill.

Golf courses: Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled.” Some clubs where playing is currently prohibited have made their fairways available for strolling, meaning you can explore the well-manicured grounds without worrying about an errant shot ruining your enjoyment. If you don’t mind the potential for “spoilage,” playing a round on an open course also will get the heart pumping.

Inside Scoop

On  Earth Day 2020, more than 300 people and organizations — including Scenic Hudson — came together virtually to advocate state leaders for increased public health and environmental protections. The day included a series of brief “conversations” with legislators about hot-button environmental issues in their districts and across the state.

Scenic Hudson Director of Public Policy Andy Bicking and Policy Analyst Althea Mullarkey got the inside environmental scoop from four valley legislators.

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett (Columbia/Dutchess counties)—“Carbon farming is a win-win-win for the environment because it takes carbon out of the atmosphere, where it’s toxic, and puts it in the soil, where it increases productivity and makes the soil healthier…. Even though it’s a time-honored practice that many farmers in this region probably practiced 300 years ago…it has been out of fashion. We’ve helped support its return.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (Dutchess/Ulster counties)—“During my tenure as [Assembly] Energy Chair, we created Green Jobs-Green New York and developed a comprehensive and dynamic energy planning process for New York State. Several years later, after Green Jobs-Green New York was put into place, tens of thousands of people have been trained in green technologies, millions and millions of dollars have been distributed to people across New York State to conserve, to retrofit their homes to make life a little more comfortable and easier, and of course to reduce the carbon footprint.”

Sen. Sue Serino (Putnam/Dutchess counties)—“Before COVID, we were moving toward a greener economy. Moving forward, working with the business community — and bringing together people of all ages that are working — I think we can come up with some great ideas so we do protect our environment.”

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (Saratoga/Washington counties)—“Cleaning up the Hudson River, making it possible once again to dredge the Champlain Canal to a navigable depth, has the possibility to open it up to commercial shipping, which would be a benefit to all of the businesses up and down this section of the river. But even if we can’t get to a navigable depth, cleaning up the Hudson River opens up the possibility of additional tourism.”

Click here for more interviews.

Earth Day Resolution


New Year’s Day is long gone, and so are a lot of the well-intentioned resolutions we made. But that’s never stopped us from trying—so why not make an Earth Day resolution?

There are lots of ways you can help the planet without leaving your home turf. Some are simple, others more time-consuming. The key (as with all resolutions) is to carry through once you commit. What’s great is that you’ll not only benefit the planet and wildlife we share it with, but usually you and your family as well.

Here are just a few ideas. Check our social media channels during the coming week for more resolutions from our staff.

  • Start a compost pile or bin and turn your garbage into plant food
  • Plant native, pollinator-friendly flowers in your yard. (This guide is a great resource)
  • Install a birdfeeder and birdbath and keep them filled
  • Use all-natural fertilizers and pesticides
  • Trade in the gas-powered lawnmower for a push-reel model
  • Switch to reusable plastic, glass, or metal containers
  • Get your electricity from a community solar farm. (Locate a project near you here)
  • Buy locally grown produce, either direct from nearby farms or at a community farmers market
  • Start growing some of your own vegetables and herbs

Tackling Ticks

Rick Ostfeld holding a white-footed mouse

Enjoying outdoor exercise helps boost our immune system and relieve stress, which has never been more important. But while a walk in the woods may keep you healthy on one hand, it also makes you a prime candidate for contracting Lyme disease.

Tick-borne illnesses have doubled since 2004, and New York ranks second only to Pennsylvania in the number of cases, with the lion’s share occurring in the Hudson Valley. Fortunately, Millbrook’s Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is at the forefront of efforts to halt this scourge.

In 2016, the institute partnered with Bard College, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NYS Department of Health, and Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health to kick off the Tick Project. Headed by Cary disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld and Bard biologist Felicia Keesing, the five-year study will determine if a neighborhood-based method of tick prevention can prove effective and safe — for people, pets and the environment.

Ongoing in 24 Dutchess County neighborhoods, the study focuses on testing the effectiveness of two pesticide-free methods to reduce tick populations. One, the Tick Control System, consists of a small box that attracts mice and chipmunks, both primarily responsible for infecting ticks with Lyme bacteria. Rodents entering the box receive a low dose of the same chemical in your dog or cat’s tick-killing collar. In the second method, a naturally occurring fungus that kills ticks is applied to vegetation. The two methods are being tested separately and in tandem.

To date, researchers have completed more than 24,000 surveys in the neighborhoods. At the end of 2020, the partners began analyzing and synthesizing these and all remaining results. Eventually, the partners hope to recommend strategies for municipalities, community groups, and others to take a bite out of Lyme disease.   

In the meantime, enjoy this compelling video presentation by Dr. Ostfeld that contains info about the Tick Project and Lyme disease in general. 

Keeping the Hudson Open

Perhaps more than ever before, the current health crisis has demonstrated the power of nature to provide solace and a respite from stress, while also highlighting the urgency to stop plans that would limit public enjoyment of the region’s natural treasures. Permanently safeguarding long-cherished connections to the Hudson River and securing new places for people to walk, fish, launch boats and hunt along its shore are the goals of the new Hudson River Access Plan commissioned by Scenic Hudson.

Our new Hudson River Access Plan can be downloaded using the links below.

The plan provides perhaps the most comprehensive evaluation ever—and the first undertaken in more than 30 years—of existing public access along the river’s rail corridor between Poughkeepsie and Rensselaer. It also suggests locations for new shoreline access and recommends ways to improve crossing the rail lines safely.

By ensuring safe rail travel and continued, safe river access, the Hudson River Access Plan offers a “win-win” alternative to Amtrak’s proposal to erect new impasse fencing and locked gates at locations between Rhinecliff (Dutchess County), Stuyvesant (Columbia County) and beyond. In an unprecedented move, last year the leaders of 12 Hudson Valley municipalities that could be impacted by Amtrak’s proposal joined Scenic Hudson in signing a letter to the state Department of State urging it to object to the plan to construct eight-foot-tall fencing.

In total, the Hudson River Access Plan documents 64 current and potential future sites for waterfront recreation between Poughkeepsie and Rensselaer. In addition to identifying each location, the plan denotes its size, ownership, amenities and current crossing characteristics, and also suggests potential or desired crossing improvements.

The plan also outlines 11 recommendations, to be completed over the next five years, which would increase public access to the river and enhance rail safety along the corridor. They include amending state laws to require preparation of a comprehensive public access plan, expanding education programs to improve safety along the rail corridor and developing a pilot program to demonstrate technologies that enhanced safer rail crossings.

See this news release for additional details.

Tiny Bubbles


A canal in Amsterdam is the site of an experimental initiative that could provide a simple yet innovative solution for ending the growing proliferation of harmful plastic in the world’s oceans. A garbage truck’s worth of this waste enters the seas each minute, with some 80% of this debris flowing forth from rivers and streams.

GIF: The Great Bubble Barrier
GIF: The Great Bubble Barrier

To the potential rescue comes the Great Bubble Barrier, conceived by three women in the Netherlands. In essence, it’s a perforated tube spanning the bottom of Amsterdam’s Westerdok Canal. A “curtain” of bubbles created by compressed air pumped through the tube floats plastic to the surface. The tube is angled to direct debris to one side of the canal, where it’s collected in a rubbish platform instead of making its eventual way into the North Sea.

Amersterdam Visual Overview (Graphic: The Great Bubble Barrier)
Amersterdam Visual Overview (Graphic: The Great Bubble Barrier)

The beauty of the Great Bubble Barrier is that it’s a barrier in name only: it poses no restrictions to marine life or shipping. Something else in its favor: It captures much smaller pieces of plastic (as tiny as 1 millimeter) compared to traditional techniques. And it works 24/7.

This pilot project will continue through 2021. If successful, developers of the Great Bubble Barrier hope to introduce it in waterways worldwide.