It’s not a river! Now learn what it really is. 1

Waterway expert and kayaking enthusiast Erik Baard will give a presentation on the East River Saturday as part of the Hunters Point Library Environmental Education Center’s program series.

Three things to know about the East River: It is not a river. It is not an open sewer, most of the time. It is not there just for humans to use and abuse.

Add plenty of fascinating historical, scientific and environmental details, and that’s the essence of expert Erik Baard’s upcoming presentation on the waterway separating geographic Long Island from Manhattan and the U.S. mainland: “East River: Mistaken Identity?”

A Hunters Point Library Environmental Center program, the online event will be held live at 2 p.m. Saturday. Any and all are welcome to log on to You Tube to watch and, perhaps, ask something during a question-and-answer session.

The presentation’s title refers to one of its points, the fact that the river is misnamed because it’s actually a tidal strait, a narrow waterway connecting two arms of the ocean, in this case Long Island Sound and Upper New York Bay, aka New York Harbor.

But Baard, a journalist and founder of the Long Island City Community Boathouse, New York City Water Trail Association and HarborLab, the environmental education organization he still heads, will go into far more than that.

He’ll go all the way back to the geological formation of what became New York City, explaining how the harbor and the rivers here were valleys that flooded 11,000 or 12,000 years ago as the glacier that covered the region retreated.

“That’s the interesting thing — we look at rivers as timeless or even as a metaphor for time,” Baard said. “But these are pretty new. There may even have been humans here. Geologically it was an instant ago.”

He’ll talk about the various species that make the East River their home, with highlights including the menhaden, a vital part of the food chain, the oysters that humankind wiped out but is now working to restore and various plant life.

He’ll talk about why the Hell Gate off Astoria, where currents from several waterways converge, can be so dangerous, and about how it often is not.

And while Baard will not ignore humanity’s use of and impact upon the river — that would be impossible — he does not plan to focus on it. “I want to de-emphasize the role of humans a bit and bring up some of the other denizens,” he said.

Baard’s talk is part of a series on environmental issues hosted by the Hunters Point Library. The presentations can all be found at

Other environmental and science programs offered by the library are geared toward everyone from 2-year-olds to adults. Some require registration while others, such as the the East River presentation, do not. Details are available at

It’s only natural for the Hunters Point Library to offer such programming, branch manager Euni Chang said, given its location on the river in an area only recently developed, where the ground needed a lot of remediation to remove centuries of toxins.

“And not just on a local level but globally there has been growing concern and issues about the environment and about sustainability and how we can basically help in terms of making where we live, our local habitat, a more sustainable environment,” so it makes sense for the library to provide free educational programming to both children and adults, Chang said. All of it is free and open to anyone, in or out of Queens.


This article originally misstated the time of the East River presentation. It was 2 p.m. We regret the error.

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