Atop the 160-foot-long dock Niskayuna Rowing has floating in the Mohawk River, it is not uncommon to see good-sized black spiders crawling across it. These arachnids have enough juice to them that they are hard not to notice as they scurry along.
But for the most part, the members of the rowing organization ignore the creatures. The spiders are part of the group’s scenery, and not letting distractions become obstacles is how Niskayuna Rowing has grown itself in recent years to a program with national successes to its name and well more than 100 young rowers on its roster.
“And maybe that’s a good analogy for all of this,” said Dave Davenport, the organization’s president. “We coexist with those spiders, and we’ll coexist with this, too.”
The “this” is the looming construction of the new Rexford Bridge, a project Niskayuna Rowing cannot ignore. The current bridge, built in 1965, is just a few hundred feet away from the end of the group’s dock in Aqueduct Park, and the new one — which will carry four lanes, not two — will be even closer, perhaps no more than 50 feet away.
Niskayuna Rowing has long wondered what a lengthy bridge project might mean for it, which is why the ears of the group’s leaders perked up when news came earlier this year that construction would begin next spring on the long-awaited project.
“Will this affect us?” said Molly Grygiel, Niskayuna Rowing’s executive director. “Yeah, absolutely.”
“It’s definitely in the foreground for us,” said Davenport, who became the group’s president at the start of July. “It’s one of the things that’s highlighted our last couple of meetings, [figuring out] what are the potential risks, what are the potential mitigating options we could do as an organization.”
Already, Niskayuna Rowing is figuring it will need to back out of playing host to the next two years’ spring sectional races for modified and small boats. That represents a fundraising loss for Niskayuna Rowing, and a likely loss for the Capital Region’s rowing scene; Grygiel said no other group has said it will be able to host that regatta, meaning it will likely just fall off the rowing calendar.
Davenport said Niskayuna Rowing has been “planning for the worst” when it comes to what bridge construction will mean for it, but state Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani said the group has avoided the scenario it calls its “nightmare.” He said the group has not been asked to move from the boathouse it rents from the Aqueduct Rowing Club, which also hosts a small dock in Aqueduct Park, and it won’t be asked to in the future.
“That’s a stage we’re already past,” Viggiani said.
What is not known yet is where the bridge project’s on-land loading site will be located, and Niskayuna Rowing is eagerly anticipating finding out that information. The closer that site is to the group’s dock, the more congestion — both on water and land — will find its way into Niskayuna Rowing’s space, making it less tenable for the group to stay in its current home for practical reasons.
Niskayuna Rowing has looked into moving its base as a way of proactively seeking better control of its future. To do so, though, would be costly — besides needing an access point to the water in a reasonable location, the group would need significant sheltered space for its fleet of vessels and other equipment, which Grygiel said is valued at more than $300,000. It also would affect the general public’s experience at Aqueduct Park.
“The community might not realize it, but the dock here is Niskayuna Rowing’s dock. So, if we go, the dock goes, and then nobody has access to it here. And I would imagine nobody would want us to move, either, because we also provide the port-o-potties in the park for everyone,” Grygiel said.
That’s why Grygiel and Niskayuna Rowing have a simple suggestion for the best way to proceed with the still-developing plans for implementing the new Rexford Bridge.
“However they can do it so we can all coexist,” Grygiel said.