Environmentalist Christopher Swain plans to take a plunge with a purpose next week. On June 3, he will climb 4293 feet up Mt. Marcy, New York state's highest peak, and then dive into Lake Tear of Clouds the highest source of the Hudson River. Over the following eight weeks, the 36-year-old Vermont resident and father of two plans to swim the entire 315 mile length of the Hudson River.
If successful, Swain will be the first person in history to swim the entire length of the Hudson River. But the purpose of his swim is not an athletic one. Swain's ultimate goal is a pristine Hudson River.
"Since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, the Hudson has come a long way," said Swain. "But if we ever want to see the Hudson become a pristine stream, everyone in the watershed will need to make a few river-friendly choices each day."
Swain says the Hudson is polluted by a combination of industrial discharges, commercial and residential activities, agricultural and urban runoff, leachate from contaminated sites and dirty air.
In response, Swain has developed a plan he calls "Clean Water By 9 a.m." The plan includes recommendations for individual action, as well as teaching tools for K-12 educators.
The plan is centered on nine typical morning activities that directly affect the Hudson River things such as eating breakfast, turning on a light, showering, writing a to-do list, and commuting to work or school.
By paying attention to the impact of these activities on the Hudson River, says Swain, "Each of us can go a long way toward cleaning it up."
Swain also suggests that when an individual makes a river-friendly choice, it creates an economic incentive for manufacturers to do the right thing. "If you start writing your morning to-do lists on tree-free, totally chlorine-free paper, you create a market for paper that can be produced without discharging any cancer-causing chemicals into the Hudson."
An acupuncturist and Ironman triathlete, Swain suggests that if each of us made five river-friendly choices every morning, the Hudson River would be nearly pristine. But he knows this won't be easy. "People don't like change. I know I don't. But if we start seeing that the Hudson River is not just part of the view, but part of us, we'll be able to make those changes. And if we do, we can turn the Hudson into a jewel, a diamond among rivers."
This is not Christopher Swain's first long swim for a cause. In 1996, Swain swam 210 miles of the lower Connecticut River in support of Universal Human Rights. In 2003, he became the first person in history to swim the entire 1,243 mile length of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, where he visited communities and schools in an effort gather support for a clean, free-flowing Columbia River.
Swain has received an International Earth Day Award at the United Nations, as well as an e-chievement award on National Public Radio's e-town. He lives in Vermont with his wife and two daughters.