Take Me to the River

The Hudson River is home to many of America's firsts. Albany, which rests on its shores, was the first American city, founded in 1686. Prospect House, located in the Adirondack Mountains at Blue Mountain Lake, was the first hotel in the world with electric lights in every room. Even Edgar Allen Poe composed one of America's first great poems, "The Raven," in a farmhouse adjacent to the Hudson.

Analogous to America, the Hudson River has been caught between nature and culture for years. Before the Mississippi River was discovered, it served as the dividing line for the United States. Forget Boston and Philadelphia; the Hudson River was the true heart of a new country, struggling to steady itself before, during and after the American Revolution. It was, as George Washington said, "The key to the continent."

In a beautifully shot and edited new four-hour documentary, Bill Moyers takes viewers on a journey along the Hudson River, exploring how it shaped American history and culture and inspired the environmental movement.

America's First River: Bill Moyers on the Hudson premieres on PBS (check local listings) at nine p.m. (ET) on April 23 and concludes April 24.

Divided into two parts, Moyers interviews historians, anglers, art collectors, working people, environmentalists and industrialists, each with a unique relationship with the river. He reports on how colliding agendas have led the Hudson through a history as winding as its 315 mile trek from Lake Tear of the Clouds to New York City.

Part one of the documentary focuses on the role the Hudson played in the development of America's economy, culture, literature, art and ideology. Viewers are treated to discussions about how West Point, located on the Hudson, became a main strategic point for helping the patriots secure victory over the British. Also included in part one are stories about Washington Irving, whose classic tales are set in the Hudson River valley, the great art movement called the Hudson River School painters, the arrival of the steamboat, the eventual desecration of the land due to excessive logging and the men and women who stepped in to save the land through the creation of parks and legislation.

"It was in the Hudson Valley that we found America the Beautiful -- and almost lost it," said Moyers.

However, part two shows that even though the riverbanks were preserved, the waters of the Hudson were less fortunate. Interviewing individuals that helped purify the water of the Hudson, Moyers said it was the work of committed citizens like these that eventually "inspired thousands of others to take part in cleaning up the Hudson and to press for legislation like the federal Clean Water Act."

Still, by examining the 20th century fight to save the river from pollution, viewers learn, along with Moyers, that in an ironic twist, the very movement to clean up the Hudson seems to have spawned a real estate and development boom that once again threatens to damage the river and its surrounding environment.

Bill Moyers is a respected and candidly informative journalist. Whether reporting on the U.S. Constitution (In Search of the Constitution), poetry (Fooling with Words) or the history of the chemical revolution (Trade Secrets), Moyers is adept at eliciting thoughtful discussions from interviewees, presenting facts in a non-biased manner and asking the viewer to reach conclusions independently. America's First River: Bill Moyers on the Hudson is another remarkable piece from one of America's first-class journalists.

This article originally appeared in the March 2002 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 13, No. 3, p. 10.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2002 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Heida Diefenderfer is a research scientist and diver with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Marine Science Research Operations in Sequim, Wash. ( www.pnl.gov). She served on the Northwest Maritime Center dock design team and as Battelle's project manager for the site surveys and eelgrass restoration. As a biologist with PNNL's Coastal Assessment and Restoration technical group, Diefenderfer conducts applied research for state and federal agencies and other partners for near-shore, wetland, and watershed assessment and restoration.

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