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Saw Mill River Coalition
Written By Ann Marie Mitroff
How the river got to where it is now
The Sawmill River is one of the smallest tributaries of the great Hudson River, but it has enormous ecological impact, primarily due to its industrial history. In the 1800’s, the tributary’s name changed from the Nepperhan, meaning “trap fishing place” in Wechquaescheck, to the Saw Mill—coinciding with the industrialization of
Prior to industrialization, much of the Saw Mill, particularly the upper reaches, was a relatively untouched and vibrant water course with rich natural habitat supporting diverse wildlife and fisheries. But industrialization and urban growth ushered in a new era of pollution and environmental decay. Beyond actual use of the waterway for industrial waste disposal, the
As the 20th century marched on, chemical companies, junk yards and other commercial industries came to dot the
Citizens take the lead to protect the river
The tide of citizen participation and stewardship – a product of the late 1960s and early 70s environmental movement - finally reached the banks of the Saw Mill in the late 80’s. At this time, the Ferry Sloops—an environmental sailing organization associated with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater—initiated its “Saw Mill River Project.” Through this project, community leaders Bob Walters and John Klonowski commenced water quality monitoring to develop a baseline of data, started a fish survey of the entire tributary, and began a community awareness program—all in an effort to educate people and promote conservation of the fragile aquatic habitat.
In 1999 the non-profit organization Groundwork Yonkers was established through the City of
. Through board member Bob Walters, Groundwork Yonkers set up “Friends of the Saw Mill, Yonkers Branch” to focus on protection of the
Finally, in 2003, Groundwork launched the Saw Mill River Coalition, funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, which supports the establishment of watershed alliances along the
The philosophy of the Coalition is to be inclusive and helpful, and to respond to the concerns of people and organizations that care about the river. Its mission is to help people protect, revitalize, and enjoy the
Water quality monitoring: In conjunction with
Encouraging sustainable land use/protecting wetlands: With a grant from the US EPA and NY State’s Hudson River Estuary Program (HREP), the Coalition will begin working with the watershed municipalities on a year-long project to document and assess land uses along the river and to identify all wetlands. Once compiled, a ranking system will be developed to help guide land use decisions and seek protection for priority pieces. These grants are based upon a working Memorandum of Agreement between the watershed municipalities—thanks in part to the training of municipal representatives through the Pace
Restoration, Free-A-Tree and River RATz program: Hundreds of volunteers are finding great satisfaction in freeing trees from invasive vines. Healthy trees are critical to a river’s habitat. Free-A-Tree meets once a month to work on sites. The Hastings High School Environmental Club has adopted this effort. Through another HREP grant, plans will be completed for restoring 2-3 sites along the river, utilizing the River RATz (Restoration Action Team). The team will also receive on-going biodiversity training.
Education about pollution: For municipal staff, the Coalition periodically provides for the attendance of technical experts at local meetings on storm water regulations, better site design, road salting, environmental enforcement, and other related issues. In a similar supportive capacity, the Coalition works with volunteer groups to mark storm drains. In 2006, partners in the storm drain marking project included Ardsley Boy and Girl Scout Troops, Dobbs Ferry St. Christophers’ students, the Elmsford’s Hamilton High School Rotary Interact Club, the Hastings High School Environmental Club,
Website: To be launched in January 2007, the Coalition website will provide not only information on happenings in the watershed (Free-A-Tree dates, restoration projects, etc.), but also historical information, “Tool Kits” for residences and businesses about how to prevent pollution, a blog for wildlife and fish sitings, recreational opportunities, and links to other river-related organizations and programs. Further—a google-interactive map of the watershed will be available on the site to “point” to interesting features in the watershed.
For more information, or to get on the Coalition email list, please contact Ann-Marie Mitroff, Coalition Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, (914) 375-2151. Office is located at