A River Runs Past It

The origins of the new Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak.

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

Joe Beczak

For many Yonkers residents, the name Beczak used to conjure up images of Boy Scouts floating down the Hudson in canoes, gleaning lessons about the river from a gaggle of outdoor enthusiasts. The former Beczak Environmental Education Center has been a beloved gathering place for young explorers since 2004. Its namesake, Joe Beczak, was an advocate for the Hudson who shared his passion with countless children in the 1970s.

In June 2013, Sarah Lawrence announced an alliance with the Hudson River Valley Environmental Education Institute, creating the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak in downtown Yonkers. These days, the College’s first off-campus research facility is expanding the SLC curriculum in environmental science and finding new ways for our students to engage with the Yonkers community—including 5,000 children each year. The latest initiative is a working field station and lab, which Director Ryan Palmer says will enable students, faculty, and visiting scientists to stay at the forefront of environmental research related to the tidal estuary.

The Center is also partnering with the City of Yonkers to address critical urban environmental issues, such as water quality in the Saw Mill River and effects of stormwater runoff and sewer overflow on cities along the Hudson. The Center’s location, complete with a tidal marsh and seining beach— where students, volunteers, and children can drag the water with a large fishing net to catch an assortment of underwater creatures—is also ideal for studying some of the long-term effects of climate change, such as sea level rise and changes in aquatic biodiversity.