The Water Resources Commission of New York has made plans to clean the pool. In the late 1950s the state made extensive surveys of every watershed, building on what the biologists had done in their 1930 surveys. Every tributary and pond draining into the Hudson, every sewer outlet and industry pouring wastes into the river was studied, noted and numbered. The Albany pool has been given a "C" classification, which means that it should be fit for fishing. "It's a goal," says George E. Burdick, a Conservation Department biologist, in wistful tones. "It took us generations to contaminate the river this much, and we can't expect to rectify the conditions overnight. But, barring repeal of the law, it will be done."
South of Albany to Poughkeepsie, the Hudson flows through gently rolling country. Midway, the looming mass of the Catskills suddenly thrusts up from the tableland, some 30 miles back from the river. At a distance the mountains are mysterious; up close they are enchanting, their sides cut with sharp cliffs, waterfalls and rushing streams. Three hundred and fifty million years ago the sea covered the land where the Catskills are now. Then the sea retreated, and the rushing waters carved into the rising mountains, exposing the mollusks embedded in their flanks.
The west bank villages are hard put. "For Sale" signs are everywhere. During the 19th century these river towns prospered from shipbuilding, brickmaking and ice-cutting. Ice from the Hudson was shipped as far as the West Indies; now the icehouses, stacked from floor to ceiling with trays, are used for growing mushrooms. Should supply exceed demand, a slight draft over the trays will slow production satisfactorily.
Although the Hudson is off the Atlantic flyway, hunters in the upriver towns like to gun for ducks. However, ducks are scarce in the river flats north of Stockport. The Army Corps of Engineers is dredging a 32-foot channel to Albany for tankers and freighters, and the silt is dumped in the flats. "I hate to do it," a dredgeman says. "I'm a hunter myself, but you can't fight the government."
On the east bank, from Rhinecliff to Hyde Park, are the estates of Millionaires' Row. Some of the houses are still in private hands; others have been taken over by religious orders and the state and federal governments.
This far below Albany the river water has become, with time and proper treatment, fit to drink. The Hudson is Poughkeepsie's reservoir. The colonic bacteria from the Albany pool have died off, and the oxygen content has risen greatly. Fish abound, particularly giant carp that weigh up to 30 or 40 pounds. Goldfish weighing as much as a pound may sometimes be seen schooling with them. The carp arc the pigs of the river, roiling the bottom for decaying matter and making it difficult for bass and other game fish to sight their prey. (Carp were introduced into this country from France in 1831 by a Mr. Henry Robinson of Newburgh, who bred them in ponds and released them annually into the Hudson a dozen or two at a time. Robinson was later pleased to write that his fish were doing well in the river.)
To most persons the Hudson Highlands are the most spectacular part of the river. Storm King Mountain guards the northern approach, Dunderberg, Bear Mountain and Anthony's Nose the southern. At present, conservationists are fighting the Consolidated Edison Company, which wants to build a hydroelectric station at the foot of Storm King. The company also plans to build a reservoir southwest of the 1,355-foot-high mountain. Water would be pumped up from the river, and when power was needed would be released to pour down inside the mountain to turn generators. The power would be sent south by 20 miles of high-tension wires cutting through the Highlands and the hills of northern Westchester. Valley conservationists do not feel warmly toward Con Ed. Only a year or so ago, the company's atomic power plant at Indian Point, 10 miles south of Storm King, killed striped bass and other fish by the ton when they swam up a canal only to be blasted by high-pressure water jets. Until proper screening was installed, a truck used to take the fish to garbage dumps to rot.
West Point lies in the middle of the Highlands. From mid-May to mid-June this area is the center of the Hudson's striped bass spawning grounds. Here the river is at its deepest, 202 feet. The striper eggs weigh more than water, but the current keeps them afloat so the sun can warm them. After hatching, the fry generally move south to Haverstraw Bay, where they feed in the marshes of Croton Point. In the spring, about the time the dogwood is in bloom, the striper fishing off Croton Point can be superb. According to Howard Powley, a watch repairman in Croton, this is the one place in the river where the stripers will take artificial lures. Usually the fish weigh from three to seven pounds, but they are there in numbers. Croton is said to be Indian for striped bass. Ordinarily, Powley does not go as far as the point to fish. At lunchtime he walks across Route 9 in front of his shop, goes up the footbridge over the Central tracks and fishes from the breakwater near Croton station. Last year he took a 17-pounder on a bloodworm, and this year, the day after he had extolled the fishing to a friend, his daughter caught a 10-pounder off the rocks that look toward High Tor, the peak across the river at Haverstraw.
Commercial fishermen get stripers here, too, some of which go up to 40 or 50 pounds. They are unmarketable because they taste of the oil released in the river by ships. The netters either throw the fish back, where they die from torn gills, or take them home and soak the fillets in brine overnight to wash out the oil. The big stripers frequent the old oyster beds in the Hudson, where they nose about for marine worms, herring and other succulents. The muck in the bed of the main channel offers little food, but the marshes are glutted with riches. There are blue crabs that scuttle up past the harbor from the sea, snails that huddle on stones between the tide levels and barnacles that lie on their backs and kick food into their mouths with their feet. The barnacles are hermaphroditic, and when they are not clustered close together they fertilize themselves, perhaps accounting for their scientific name, Balanus improvisus. There is a species of isopod, Cyathura carinata—a cousin of the sow bugs that are found on land under rocks—that burrows into the muck. Sturgeon feed upon them. In Haverstraw Bay there are both salt- and fresh-water shrimp and prawns. The fish feast on all. "The lower Hudson compares favorably with the richest lakes," a biologist once noted.
At one time the oyster beds in the river ran from Peekskill to the Narrows, a distance of 50 miles. In places the shells of the old beds are 10 to 14 feet thick, and archaeologists excavating Indian sites on Croton Point have found shells in camps that were 6,000 years old, the oldest findings of their kind in the eastern U.S. In the early 1950s, Long Island oystermen, led by Butler Flower of Bayville, leased 5,000 acres of river bottom in the Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bay from the state. The spawning beds in the Sound inexplicably had become unproductive, and the river offered a likely alternative. Mature oysters were sown, and their spawn—known as sprats—"set," or took, on bits and pieces of the old shells. After a year the young oysters were pumped up from the river and transplanted to "growing" grounds in the Sound. After two years there they were transferred to "fattening" grounds near Bayville on the north shore of Long Island. The Hudson oysters "fattened up" well, Flower says, but then in the spring of 1957 "there was a lot of snow up the river, and a slug of fresh water came down and killed practically everything off." Flower has since planted some more mature oysters in the river, but so far their sprats have not set.