Cleaning the Hudson – One Tire at a Time

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by Char Weigel – 


Calliope Yannuzzi pulls on a rope to drag tire out of the Hudson River.

Low tide on the Hudson peels back a murky curtain, briefly revealing hidden oyster colonies, blue crabs and driftwood. Calliope Yannuzzi, 11, saw something else – a tire that reappeared with every low tide in Sleepy Hollow’s Horan’s Landing Park harbor.

“When we first came here and saw the pollution in the water, I knew that I wanted to try to help the water,” Calliope said. She and her Hackley School fifth grade classmates volunteered as part of the Friends of the Tarrytown RiverWalk Workday on April 27. As she picked up trash, she kept thinking about that tire she saw nearly every day in the river. “I got inspired, and my dad got a grappling hook.”

Calliope and her father, Todd Yannuzzi, realized that the River was not going to give up the heavy truck tire easily. First there was the challenge of locating it depending on the water level. Calliope researched tide tables, and discovered that there are two high tides and two low tides each day. “It was hard because the low tides were really early or really late, but we planned for one day when the low tide was going to be 4 p.m. and we went down.”

Her dad swung a grappling hook from the shore, missed the tire and tried again until it made a solid connection. “We struggled a lot,” said Calliope. The tire was lodged solidly in the muck of the river bottom. “We pulled and pulled and tied the rope around our waists. A man walking a dog saw us struggling and he helped us pull.” Calliope wrapped the rope around a piece of driftwood after it started to cut into her hands. “The dog even helped pull on the wood,” she said.

The sand piled up in front of the tire as they started to break the suction of the river bottom, making it even harder to drag. “We were worried that we would add to the pollution if we couldn’t get the tire out and had to leave the grappling hook,” she explained. Her dad was worried that the torque would pull the hook loose and it would fly back at Calliope. They kept up a calibrated pressure and slowly dragged the tire toward shore. Someone from the Sleepy Hollow Department of Public Works saw them laboring, and came to help as well.  Finally, Calliope and her small team pulled the tire to the shore and lifted it out of the tidal zone.

“I looked at it carefully. If there was any sea life, like barnacles, making a home on the tire, I was going to put it back,” said Calliope. But it was just a heavy, black rubber tire. Calliope wondered how the tire got there. “I saw a bunch of Gatorade bottles and candy wrappers in the water. It doesn’t make sense to me when there is a trash can two feet away.” Calliope worried about this trash affecting fish making a home in the harbor, and the possibility that endangered sturgeons are nursing close by.

What’s next for Calliope? She said she spotted a tire a little farther out in the same harbor. “But my dad said, ‘I think one a day is good.’” Calliope is determined to come back, but says she’s going to need a bigger rope.

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