The reason Long Dock Park in Beacon often floods is because it’s designed to.
When Scenic Hudson was redesigning the park about 15 years ago, it viewed the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy as harbingers. Putting up a seawall around the park might keep the water out, but the river’s energy would increase during heavy storms as the waves slammed against it and the water would find a way to wherever there wasn’t a wall. So the design included grassy berms and native marsh vegetation to accept the water and diffuse the energy.
That’s great if you want to create sustainable landscapes that mitigate the effects of climate change. It’s far less great if you’re planning an event on the river bank.
The third annual Soon Is Now theater festival, which took place Oct. 1, consisted of performances about the climate crisis. The pieces have always been site-specific to Long Dock and the banks, but this year the river decided it wanted a starring role.
“It came in with such force,” said Eve Morgenstern, the festival director, who has lived in Beacon for years. She knows what high tide looks like here. But this was different. As spectators walked through the park, they found themselves wading through deeper and deeper water. Performers were stranded, surrounded by the overflowing river. It swallowed an iPhone hooked up to speakers to provide sound.
Oct. 1 was otherwise a sunny, beautiful day. The festival had been scheduled for the previous weekend but was postponed at the last minute because of Tropical Storm Ophelia.
Morgenstern believes the flooding happened because of the days of heavy rain leading up to the event, the high tide and a full moon. Going forward, event planners may need to check not only the forecast but a tide chart and the lunar cycle.
Then again, if you’re hosting a festival devoted to the climate crisis, having the Hudson River surge in the middle of the performance, wash away equipment and send performers and audience members running for higher ground is a powerful visual. “A few people did say to me, ‘Isn’t this what it’s all about?’ ” said Morgenstern.
Erin Riley, the senior vice president at Scenic Hudson, which owns the park, said she loves Long Dock but that it can seem to have its own microclimate. “I can go up to Main Street and the climate is completely different.”
That contrast was driven home earlier this summer when Scenic Hudson held its annual fundraiser at the park. The forecast noted the possibility of rain, but Beacon was clear and sunny so the staff decided to hold the cocktail hour outside, instead of under the tent.
That’s when it started hailing.
A few months later, the organization took no chances for its annual Farmland Cycling Tour, scheduled for Sept. 23. It was canceled, and not just because of concerns about 400 people biking through a tropical storm. The organization uses its Poet’s Walk park in Red Hook for the event but weeks of rain had turned that field into a soggy mud wallow, making it vulnerable to being torn up by tire treads, especially the tires of the tow trucks that would have inevitably been needed.
“That field is a habitat and we manage it as a habitat,” Riley said.
Destruction came to Manitoga during the July floods — a road leading to the Dragon Rock House became a river, the lower waterfall partially fell in and blew out the lower bridge, which wiped out the paths that tour groups usually take — but Executive Director Allison Cross said it could have been much worse.
Last year, a hydrologist warned her that the upper waterfall desperately needed to be reinforced due to the damage it received years ago from Irene and Sandy, and because of the increased frequency of storms due to climate change. The reinforcement work was done last November. If it hadn’t been done, “the whole waterfall would have come down,” said Cross.
Climate change has affected the landscape of Manitoga in other ways that increased the effects of the storm. Manitoga Forest has lost 80 percent of its hemlock trees because of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Had those trees still been alive, their roots would have soaked up much of the water; instead, it poured through the waterfall and into the quarry.
Cross said they’re working on a plan to deepen the quarry so that it can hold more water. Manitoga sits in a basin surrounded by the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, so much of the water that flows downhill ends up there.
As the climate continues to heat up, the warmer atmosphere is able to hold increasing amounts of moisture, making events like the July floods and the September storms more common.
“We’re an outdoor organization, so at a certain point it is what it is,” said Riley. “We’ll just have to keep coming up with backup plans.”