Genesee RiverWatch

Thank You to our Supporters

A new year has begun and 2020 is now behind us. Despite all its trials, it was a very productive year at Genesee RiverWatch.  Our Year-End Appeal was among the brightest parts of 2020 and we want to thank you, our Supporters, for making it so.

This was the second time we have come to you with a Year-End Appeal.  Your response was encouraging in 2019, so we upped our game and sought to mix our requests for support with some “behind the scenes” details of the work that we accomplished during the year.  It looks like the plan worked; the number of people making donations increased 230% and the total contributions from the drive rose 266% to over $5,000!

By the standards of larger organizations in our region, this may seem relatively small.  However, at Genesee RiverWatch this represents a wonderful addition to our full year fundraising program.  It makes possible more of the critical project development work that our volunteers must do to define erosion control, river access, public outreach, and education projects in advance of the grants that cover the cost of executing this work.  As a result of your generosity, we can move forward with the busy schedule of work outlined in our last message and which you will hear more about as this new year progresses. 

Again, we thank you and wish you a healthy and happy 2021. We hope to see you out enjoying the Genesee – whether on the water or hiking and biking its trails – during the day or at night with the stars and fireflies.

P.S.  If you missed contributing during the Year-End Appeal or prefer to renew your support at another time during the year, we welcome your donation of $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – in Genesee RiverWatch and our work.

Gratitude and Resolve

This article is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s 2020 Year-End Appeal series – telling the stories behind our significant accomplishments and plans for the future.

The year of 2020 was difficult and strange in many ways.  And yet, we at Genesee RiverWatch, are grateful for many things. Simultaneously, we are looking forward to the work which will require our attention and resolution in 2021 as we focus on the river that we love and that demands our best efforts every day.


Our gratitude spans the natural world and the many people and organizations helping us protect and celebrate the River.

  • Gratitude that we live and work on a river of great beauty – with dramatic waterfalls, peaceful forests, and productive fields formed by millennia of glaciation and seasonal weathering.
  • Gratitude that, in addition to its beauty, the Genesee offers so many opportunities to learn and teach in the areas of geology, history, political science, biology, ecology, and many other disciplines.
  • Gratitude to our predecessors who had the wisdom to put in place laws that reduced pollution, restrained uncontrolled development, and established park lands accessible to all.
  • Gratitude to legislators that have seen fit to continue this legacy by funding continuing conservation and civic development efforts.
  • Gratitude to our supporters whose donations allow us to translate good intentions into concrete achievements.
  • Gratitude to our volunteers who have freely given their time and skill to collect data, prepare publications, produce public events, reach out to landowners, obtain streambank restoration permits, and all the other myriad activities that our growing organization requires to be successful.
  • Gratitude to our partners who, by combining the strengths of our organizations, have made possible achievements beyond the reach of any of us acting alone.
  • Gratitude to those who participate in our events – the few we were able to hold in 2020 and those held in prior years.  Summit and workshop attendees have offered their experience and wisdom in ways that have directly translated into the design of new initiatives, projects, and publications.  Paddle and cruise participants have carried away enthusiasm for the Genesee that encourages others to get more involved in the river and our community.  Students in our classes have learned from the river and taken away both specific knowledge and a greater appreciation for the natural world.


Our success since launching Genesee RiverWatch in 2014, and our ability to continue this work virtually unabated through 2020, has only increased our enthusiasm and resolve to promote “a healthy and sustainable Genesee River ecosystem that is an environmental, recreational and economic asset for all generations.”  Here are the coming year’s plans, organized by our major initiative areas:

  • We will continue our initiative of Improving Water Quality through streambank restoration projects.  This work reduces the sediment and algae-promoting nutrients flowing downriver while preserving precious farmland and decreasing the need for costly downstream dredging – wins for every member of the river community.  For 2021 we have two major projects funded and permitted and another designed and ready for funding. A strategic, multi-year plan for this work will be submitted to the state in the coming year.  Other programs to improve the water quality of our river will be announced as 2021 progresses.
  • Our annual series of Genesee River Basin Summits is designed to Inform and Educate the public while helping prioritize our own work.  We were forced to cancel the 2020 Summit because of the coronavirus pandemic.  In 2021 we will resume these community programs as either in-person or virtual events, depending on the progress of vaccinations in our region.  Our new Genesee River Blueway Map will be continually updated as planned in its interactive design.  We expect to update our Genesee River Basin Report Card with new data as it is collected.
  • Our efforts to Connect People to the River were severely constrained this year but should be able to resume as 2021 progresses.  In the summer we should be able to resume our series of public paddles through the “wilderness in the city” between Lower Falls and the harbor.  We have long sought to have a guided paddle event on the river upstream of Letchworth State Park.  This may be possible later in the year.  We are seeking, and expect to receive, funding to improve two key access sites on the river between Mt. Morris and Rochester.  These projects will make boating and fishing access easier and safer for an increasing number of users.  A paddle training program for inner city youth was designed in 2020 awaits only virus control and funding for 2021.  Finally, we hope to resume our dinner cruises on the Harbor Town Belle in the late summer and fall.
  • Last, but by no means least, our work to Facilitate Aquatic Education took a big step forward in 2020 with St. John Fisher College’s NOAA-funded B-WET program to train K-12 teachers and engage students in aquatic education classes centered on the Genesee.  The college  has applied to continue this program in the 2021-22 school year and approval seems likely.  To maintain momentum during the coming summer we will need to raise funding from local supporters interested in educational enrichment programs.

All of this work is only possible through the generosity of our Supporters.  We invite you to invest $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – in Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan.

Thank you and the very best New Year to all!

Holiday Greetings

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year from the Genesee RiverWatch team!

The Story Behind the Genesee Blueway Map

This article is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s 2020 Year-End Appeal series – telling the stories behind our significant accomplishments.

In this installment, we take you “behind the scenes” to describe the origin and development of the newly launched Genesee River Blueway Map and the additional resources arising from this project – an interactive version of the map, a Canoe/Kayak Access Improvement Plan and the physical signage being placed at access points along the river to guide boaters, fishermen and hikers.

In 2004, the Rochester chapter of the Sierra Club published the first-ever recreational boating map of the Genesee from Gold, Pennsylvania, to Lake Ontario, showing the locations of access points and providing brief descriptions of each.  The map was originally available only in hardcopy form until it was added to the Genesee RiverWatch website in 2015.  Unfortunately, over the years a number of the access points had become unsafe or were closed by private owners and the map was in dire need of updating.

Our 2017 Genesee River Basin Summit focused on “River Access & Recreational Activities”.  Ninety attendees heard 20 presentations on a wide variety of subjects.  At the end, one key conference recommendation was to “provide maps with information (in paper and app form) about access, tourism opportunities, availability of drinking water and restrooms, historical information, fishing, cell coverage, camping and local businesses”.

The 2018 cycle of NOAA Sea Grant funding provided an opportunity for Genesee RiverWatch to respond to this recommendation.  In April, we submitted a $25K proposal to solicit public input, develop and publish a map, and install signage at access sites along the river.  In September we were awarded the grant and a final contract was received in May 2019.

While awaiting final approval, RiverWatch partnered with Genesee River Wilds and the Genesee Valley Conservancy – experts on the upper and middle sections of the river.  Together we held a series of public meetings in Rochester, Geneseo, and Belfast.  Attendees told us which access sites were good, which needed improvement, where new sites were needed, and what amenities would be particularly useful.  They also made recommendations on map design and content.

While not required by the grant, it quickly became apparent that a web-based interactive map would be an essential part of this project.  Having an interactive version allows for site photos, detailed site descriptions, and other information that cannot be printed on a physical document.  Equally important, the web-based map can be updated with new information immediately and users can print detailed segments of the river, customized for each trip.

The new map, in both physical and electronic form, was released in late August on the  Genesee RiverWatch website.

Simultaneously, we began installing signage at access points along the river.  Each site has three sets of signs.  One set, placed near the parking area shows the name of the site, its location in “river miles” from the Pennsylvania headwaters, a “QR” code linking to the on-line map, and a holder containing printed copies of the map.  A second set, placed at the launch site, shows the access point name, its location in river miles, and the distance to the next site downstream.  Finally, a sign set placed upstream on the riverbank tells paddlers that they are approaching a takeout point, the site name and mileage, and the distance to the next takeout point.

Also included in the grant proposal and published on the RiverWatch website is the Genesee River Main Stem Canoe/Kayak Access Improvement Plan.  This plan is designed to be a guide for further development of the Genesee’s chain of access sites.  It proposes six new sites at critical points and eight sites that need varying degrees of improvement to make them safe and fully usable.  Each of these proposed projects is detailed and prioritized so that they can be readily matched with new funding as it becomes available.

While NOAA’s Sea Grant funded the work involved in assembling public comments, developing the interactive map and printing the physical maps and signs, the initial work of holding the Genesee River Basin Summit, researching grant opportunities, and preparing the grant proposal was made possible by the generosity of our Supporters.  Help us continue this work as well as our streambank stabilization, public outreach, and education initiatives in 2021.  Please consider investing $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – in Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan.

The Story Behind the Chamberlain Farms Streambank Project

This article is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s 2020 Year-End Appeal series – telling the stories behind our significant accomplishments.

Most Western New Yorkers are aware that our beautiful Finger Lakes Region and Genesee River Valley are products of glaciers that last visited this area 10,000 years ago.  In addition to scouring out the Finger Lakes and raising our many drumlin ridges, these glaciers left a legacy of fertile soils in the Genesee River Valley.  While wonderful for farming, these loose soils are easily eroded by the Genesee and its tributary streams.  The result is an annual loss of 422,000 tons of farmable soil, the release of 455 tons of algae-causing phosphorus, and millions of dollars yearly in sediment dredging costs at the Mt. Morris Dam, Rochester Harbor channel and private marinas – not to mention the aesthetic cost of a sediment-filled river flowing through our civic center.

Since its inception, Genesee RiverWatch has focused on improving water quality by restoring stream banks and establishing riparian zones to preserve valuable farmland and reduce the sediment flowing downstream.  Our 2015 study of the river in Allegany County identified and prioritized those areas with the worst erosion problems.  In 2018 and 2019 we completed two major projects near Belfast and Fillmore, New York that stabilized 2,900 feet of bank and stopped the loss of 1.1 acres of farmland per year.  Federal Great Lakes grants totaling $352K and farmer in-kind work of $79K paid for permitting and construction.  RiverWatch-funded staff and volunteers identified the target areas, engaged the landowners, developed cost estimates for the projects and prepared the grant applications.

In 2017, RiverWatch staff began discussions with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the New York State Department of Conservation – trustees of the Kodak Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Settlement fund.  At their request, we prepared a list of potential project sites from the Allegany County study that would meet their funding criteria.  Site visits and detailed discussions followed.  Out of this process, a 2,720’ stretch of riverbank near the confluence of the Genesee River and Angelica Creek was chosen.  Restoring and stabilizing this site will stop erosion which exceeds 0.5 acres annually.

Past Genesee streambank projects have been accomplished by grading back vertical banks and lining them with boulders to prevent high water currents from scouring away the soil.  For this project USF&WS chose to employ a technique called a “toe-wood structure”.  In this process, large trees are placed at river bottom level and crisscrossed to form an inter-linked structure with the root wads pointed outward into the river current.  Earth is backfilled over this assembly in two “bench” levels that are held in place by grass and tree plantings.  (See photos below)  In the case of the Chamberlain project, three sloping rock “vanes” were added to further direct flow to the river channel and away from the banks.  Among other advantages, toe-wood projects improve habitat for fish and other aquatic life and provide a more natural appearance than rock-hardened structures.

In executing the project, Genesee RiverWatch was responsible for landowner relations, required archeological studies, obtaining the government agency permits, restoration planting and post-construction monitoring.  USF&WS managed the detailed engineering and construction phases.

Ground was broken on the site during the week of July 20, 2020.  Construction continued through early September and work for the year ended with the planting of 9,000 willow stakes and riparian seed mix at the top of the bank in mid-November.

This valuable work will continue in 2021 with an 1,800’ streambank restoration project in Houghton, New York that will begin in the summer and a 1,300’ restoration/boat launch undertaking that has been submitted for grant funding, also in 2021.

Help us with this work as well as our river access improvement, public outreach, and education initiatives in 2021.  Please consider investing $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – in Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan.

The Story Behind the Petten Street Access Dock

This article is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s 2020 Year-End Appeal series – telling the stories behind our significant accomplishments.

The new canoe/kayak access dock on the Genesee River at Petten Street in Rochester, NY was formally opened on September 12th.  However, this was only the culmination of work that extended back to 2014.  In that year, the City of Rochester completed its “Harbor Management Plan”.  Among many other items, the Plan envisioned a car-top boating facility at Petten Street.  Separately, Genesee RiverWatch took a kayak trip from the power boat  launch in the harbor to Lower Falls.  It became clear during that trip that power-boaters and paddlers have very different interests and that the lake swells and boat wakes in the ramp area make this part of the harbor hazardous to paddlers.  Clearly, an improved access facility upriver at Petten Street would improve safety and make paddling the lower river – our “wilderness in the city” – attractive to many more people.

These separate ideas came together when the Genesee Brewery generously contributed funds from their support program that shares Tasting Bar revenues with local non-profit organizations.  With core funding in place and strong support from Rochester Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Norman Jones, real planning for dock location and design began in the summer of 2018.

As with all significant Genesee RiverWatch projects, the path from good ideas to concrete results is strewn with obstacles that must be resolved.  In this case they included a neighboring Brownfield site, permissions from the NYSDEC and the Army Corp of Engineers, handicapped access design requirements and, ultimately, additional funding needs.  At this point Rochester Gas & Electric, the Popli Design Group and other Genesee RiverWatch supporters joined the City to fill the funding gap.

Today, thanks to persistence, the help of generous donors, and hard work by the City’s engineers, recreational boaters can paddle upriver to Turning Point Park, Seth Green Island and Lower Falls; exploring our wilderness in the city – an area that can only be fully appreciated from a boat. When we are past the current COVID emergency, the Waterways Center/Genesee RiverWatch program of guided paddles on the lower river will have a proper facility for their Seth Green-to-harbor trips.  In addition, K-12 and college students in aquatic education programs and potential canoe/kayak races will have a safe and dedicated dock available for their activities.

Help us continue this work in 2021.  Please consider donating $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – to Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan.

Seeking your Support

2020 Year-End Appeal

In this difficult year of 2020 we reached significant milestones in our work to improve water quality and connect people to the river. We are seeking your support to continue these efforts in 2021. Please consider donating $100, $250 – or an amount of your choosing – to Genesee RiverWatch as a part of your year-end giving plan. We hope you enjoy this summary of our recent work in pictures.

Roc the Riverway Weekend Paddle

Saturday, Oct 3, 10am-2pm. Guided Paddle of the Lower River from the NEW Petten St. Dock

Thirteen paddlers joined Genesee RiverWatch and the Genesee Waterways Center for a guided paddle on the Lower Genesee on Saturday Oct 3. The paddlers left from and returned to, the brand new, ADA compliant, canoe and kayak dock at the foot of Petten Street. They enjoyed a rare, water-level view of Turning Point Park and Rochester’s unique “wilderness in the city” on a crisp, sunny morning with the beginnings of fall colors along the gorge walls. Guides described the history of the Lower Genesee, including its role as a lake port and terminus of the Underground Railway. Thanks to all who came!

Fall Newsletter 2020

Dear Friends,

Despite the challenges of 2020, Genesee RiverWatch has been busy working toward our goal of protecting and celebrating the river. This summary will bring you up to date on all our latest news. Please contact us with any questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you.


  • Mike Haugh, President of the Board
  • George Thomas, Executive Director

A New Website!

Our Genesee RiverWatch team took advantage of some of the extra time available during the health crisis to completely refresh our website. We planned this new design to be both attractive to our viewers and give us a framework for keeping you up-to-date with our progress and upcoming events. The website has many resources that describe the Genesee River basin and support our work to Improve Water Quality, Inform and Educate, Connect People to the River and Facilitate Aquatic Education. You may also want to get to know us better by checking out our new “Who We Are” page or find ways to “Get Involved”.

2019 Annual Report Released

Genesee RiverWatch has released its 2019 Annual Report. We invite you to take a look at the summary of our work in 2019 and future plans.

Improving Water Quality

Streambank Restoration

Genesee RiverWatch has several streambank restoration projects underway in 2020. These are important because restoring the banks of the river preserves valuable farm land and reduces sediment and phosphorus loads in the river, improving the quality of the water for recreational use and wildlife habitat. Establishing riparian zones are an important part of that work. Check out this short video by Board Member Melissa Skyer explaining Riparian Zones.

Town of Angelica: Genesee RiverWatch has begun work on its part of a US Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) project to restore a 2,720 foot section on eroded Genesee River bank in the Town of Angelica, NY.  This project is funded by $523,000 from the Kodak Environmental Response Trust. USF&WS is responsible for the design and construction of the project and is using bio-engineering techniques over rock riprap to stabilize the river bank. Genesee RiverWatch has secured the necessary environmental permits and archeological reports and will design and install part of the riparian buffer. Construction was completed in September. The riparian planting work will occur in the Fall of 2020 and the Spring of 2021.

Town of Houghton: Construction work is planned for 2021 to stabilize 1,800 linear feet of un-buffered agricultural field along the Genesee River in the town of Houghton. Genesee RiverWatch has been awarded a $197,000 grant from the Great Lakes Commission. The landowner will contribute $119,000 of in-kind work for a total project cost of $316,000. This restoration will reduce sediment and phosphorus loads to the river while adding a new riparian zone and protecting valuable farmland.

Connecting People to the River

Enabling Access to the River
Installing Petton Street ADA-Compliant Dock

New Petten Street Access Site: Thanks to the City of Rochester with financial support from Genesee RiverWatch donors such as Genesee Brewery, kayakers and canoeists have a new and safe access site on the Lower Genesee. The ADA-compliant dock is on the west side of the river at the foot of Petten Street, just south of the O’Rourke Bridge. Learn more.

Genesee River Blueway Map: A new Genesee River Blueway Map is ready for use by canoeists and kayakers who wish to explore and connect with the river.  The downloadable Overview Map shows current river access locations from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario.  A web-based Interactive Map gives users detailed information about each access point, including photos of the sites.  Printed copies of the Overview Map will be available at access points over the next few months as signage and map holders are installed. The advantage of the online map is that it can be updated as necessary to provide current information about access points.

Roc the Riverway Weekend Paddle

Roc the Riverway Weekend Paddles: Thirteen paddlers celebrated ROC the Riverway Weekend with a tour of the Genesee upstream from the new Petten Street dock. Definitely a “crisp” fall morning, but sunny with the beginnings of fall colors along the gorge walls. Just the kind of day to appreciate our “wilderness within the city”! Thanks to the folks at the Genesee Waterways Center for partnering with us in hosting this water-level view of our river.

Facilitating Aquatic Education

Aquatic Education Going Virtual: The NOAA funded Our Lakes, Streams, and Rivers education initiative has been turned into a “virtual” program under the guidance of St. John Fisher College (Mike Boller) and the Aquatic Education Network. Twenty teachers have been chosen from 33 applicants for training to enable them to provide Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences (MWEE) to middle and high school students in the 2020 – 2021 school year. This project is part of Genesee RiverWatch’s efforts to facilitate educational experiences that connect students and teachers to the Genesee River.

Online Resources for Educators: A September 2020 Update for educators summarizes available online resources. We’ve recently added three videos developed by our Board member and RIT Professor Melissa Skyer to the lesson plans and resources page available on our website. The topics cover:

  • Modeling Watersheds
  • Riparian Zones
  • Invasive Species

Riparian Zones Explained

Riparian Zones are an important part of the streambank restoration work that Genesee RiverWatch does to improve water quality. As an interface between water and land, riparian zones are important features in the landscape. These areas are adjacent to waterbodies like streams and rivers, and their health directly impacts the health of the those waterbodies. In this short 3 minute video, Genesee RiverWatch Board Member Melissa Skyer visits a high quality riparian zone on the banks of the Genesee River.

Riparian Zone video