YONKERS, NY — On the Hudson River, the term “floating classroom” is used to describe the sloop Clearwater and the schooner Mystic Whaler, which sail up and down the river and host thousands of students every spring, summer, and fall. That term also applies to the Science Barge, which opened for its tenth season on Saturday, May 12.
Solar panels and wind turbines power the barge. Inside its two adjoining greenhouses, staff and volunteers use hydroponics to grow an abundant assortment of vegetables, sans soil. Many of those vegetables end up donated to shelters and to soup kitchens.
The barge attracts students from around the region and tourists from around the world. To stay afloat, however, it requires more than fees from tours.
Last year, the nonprofit that owns and operates the barge, Groundwork Hudson Valley, received a $240,000 grant from the New NY Bridge Community Benefits Program, a $20 million fund set up to support projects near the new Mario Cuomo Bridge. That grant paid for repairs to the barge this past winter and for new equipment.
Upon its return from a shipyard, the barge needed to be moored 20 feet farther from shore because it had been mired in mud at low tide. To span that distance, Groundwork Hudson Valley needed a new metal bridge. The $30,000 for that bridge was donated by Yonkers resident Jerry Blackstone, a retired teacher who belongs to the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club.
Blackstone dedicated the bridge to his late domestic partner, Michael Skaar, who passed away from leukemia in 2012, at age 78. The two men were together for 47 years. Blackstone, who was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, left that hospital to attend the opening on May 12.
During the ceremony, the barge’s director, Bob Walters, handed a microphone to Blackstone, who sat in a chair with a blanket around his shoulders, an oxygen tube under his nose, and an oxygen tank alongside him.
To the north, a high-rise apartment building was under construction and a seawall was being built at the padding and rowing club. To the south, another apartment complex was close to completion. Blackstone noted the changes that had transformed that area during the last decade, especially the addition of the barge.
“When we moved to Yonkers from Greenwich Village, we never dreamed that this would become such a fabulous waterfront,” he said about himself and his partner. Walters later confessed that he was “almost moved to tears” by Blackstone’s attendance and by his generosity.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.