Park Blog

The latest news about one of New York City’s best waterfront parks.

Photo by Alex MacLean
Park People

Beth Schermer and Tom Potter


Friends from college, Beth and Tom approached the Conservancy with the idea of hosting a free kayaking camp two years ago. Together they hosted a week of lessons for kids in subsidized summer camps who, predominantly, had never been in a kayak before. The first year was so moving and successful that they expanded it to two weeks this past summer. In summer of 2013, they are hoping to expand to 6 weeks! Click here for more info on the program.

What do you do when you’re not in the park?

TOM: I’m a co-founder and partner at the New York Distilling Company. I was co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery and am also involved with several other Brooklyn businesses.

BETH: I am a principal in Christofolo Schermer Consulting. We work with businesses and non-profit organizations around the country on strategic planning, leadership team development, communications and executive coaching.

Please describe what you do for/with the park

BETH: Brooklyn Kayak Guides works with the Conservancy and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse to provide kayak training for adult volunteers. We also worked with the Conservancy and the Boathouse to establish the park’s summer youth kayaking program, which is now in its third year.

How did you become interested in kayaking?

TOM: I’ve always loved boats. I started kayaking nearly 25 years ago and became a certified instructor 13 years ago. I spend much of my summers teaching and leading trips for community boathouses in the region.

BETH: I’ve rafted the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon many times with family and friends. I also enjoy teaching and working with teenagers. This led me to kayaking and the development of the park youth kayak program.

Are their major differences between kayaking in the East River versus kayaking in the country or suburbs?

TOM: The East River is busy. The park’s embayments are protected and great for public programs, but commercial and pleasure-boat traffic just offshore can be heavy. The daily tidal currents are also quite strong. Kayakers that venture out into the East River or New York Harbor are in for an amazing experience, but they have to know what they’re doing. Local knowledge of the waters is vital.

What do you like about the park?

BETH: The park was designed with water access in mind. And not just getting to the water, but actually getting on the water in boats. The park administration understands that this is a unique opportunity, and in a way a unique responsibility. Other parks simply cannot offer what Brooklyn Bridge Park can. It’s incredible to be on the water, and to see the city from that vantage point.

What motivates you to partner with the park?

TOM: I’ve really enjoyed working with the other volunteers at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse. These are dedicated, fun people who put in an enormous amount of time so that the public can paddle for free. It’s a wonderful group. I’m proud to be part of it.

BETH: The kids and counselors who participate in the youth kayak program are also great. Most have never been in a kayak or on the water. Once they get on the water, they learn new skills, have a great time and see their hometown in a completely different way.

Why is it important to educate park visitors about kayaking and getting on the water?

TOM: Our city is built on islands, and island residents need to understand and appreciate the water that surrounds them. Nothing brings a person closer to the water than paddling a kayak. Kayaking in New York City can range from a tame experience to an adventurous sport – there is opportunity for everyone.

What is it about Brooklyn Bridge Park that makes it good for this program?

TOM: The New York Harbor, as accessed from Brooklyn Bridge Park, is one of the greatest urban paddling locations in the world. I’d put it right up there with places like Sydney, Auckland, Hong Kong, San Diego, and San Francisco. The location of Brooklyn Bridge Park is not just good for a kayaking program; it is spectacular. Irreplaceable.

BETH: It’s a spectacular place that is incredibly accessible. Kids from all over the city can get here and have the chance to learn to paddle.

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