Strawberry Festival Still Going Strong Since 1972

By Jennifer L. Warren

BEACON – It was a vision that would have made Pete Seeger proud….very, very proud.
Hundreds of people filled the Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park Sunday afternoon once again enjoying the annual Beacon Sloop Club’s Strawberry Festival. Whether it was reclining in a lawn chair enjoying a luscious serving of homemade strawberry shortcake-complete with fresh, local strawberries, dollops of homemade cream atop a biscuit made from scratch, relaxing while listening to music at one of the stages, visiting one of a multitude of vendors with a wide spectrum of intriguing offerings or simply looking out and imbibing the surrounding, scenic Hudson River view, it was the exact, ideal scene the legendary folk music icon and activist Seeger envisioned throughout his years in Beacon. It’s also one the still very active Sloop Club is intent on keeping alive.

“The mission of the Sloop Club is to carry on the work and vision to clean up the Hudson River of Pete Seeger,” explained Ellen Kirschner, a three year member of the Sloop Club. “He (Seeger) thought if he could get people out on the River and to fall in love with it the way he did, it would inspire them to clean it up.” She added as she surveyed the large crowd, “Seeger was also all about inclusivity and participation, and it all worked; look at everyone out here today.”

Members of the Beacon Sloop Club were hard at work Sunday preparing over 1500 strawberry shortcakes for the large crowd at the Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park.
Members of the Beacon Sloop Club were hard at work Sunday preparing over 1500 strawberry shortcakes for the large crowd at the Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park.

Few would argue the Seeger formula is extremely successful. Sloop Club members regularly provide tours of the Hudson, while educating those aboard their Sloop Woody Guthrie 47’ gaff sloop. That action, combined with three yearly festivals, including Sunday’s Strawberry one, in existence since 1972, have ignited fire to Seeger’s Hudson River mission. Once taking place at the Sloop Club’s Boathouse area, the popular Festivals were later moved to the beautiful Park spot, once the site of an eyesore dump. Although the location of the gatherings has changed over the years, its laser focus on the Hudson River’s cleanliness has remained. That commitment has wielded life transforming results for all who visit it.

“It’s all about getting people down to the River to teach people, especially the children, who are our future, about it,” said Tom LaBarr, a Sloop Club member since 1979 as well as one of its former Presidents.

Those efforts made for a picture-perfect day for the Strawberry Festival which supplied long lines of patient guests with around 1500-2000 strawberry shortcake delectable offerings, which had to be timed perfectly to keep on pace with the 300 biscuits made per hour limit. Also focused on celebrating local produce, the Festival secured its 1000 pounds of strawberries from three local farms. The community connection could further be felt in the approximately 100 people strong Sloop Club volunteer contingent. Members of all ages could be spotted preparing and serving the shortcake dessert and smoothies; while others were busy over at the Educational Center Tent, relaying critical concepts about how to keep our River clean, and still more folks occupied the Main “Earth Sculpture” Stage, where they were sharing song lyrics embedded in clean water and support for nature.

“The Hudson River is cleaner today than it has ever been,” said Sloop Club member, Aimee LaBarr. “It’s an absolutely beautiful day to be out here enjoying it and wonderful to see so many people so happy.”

If you didn’t get a chance to enjoy Sunday’s highly successful Strawberry Festival, you will have a couple more chances this year to enjoy all the splendor of the Hudson River. Next up for the Sloop Club at the Riverfront Park is the Corn Festival later this summer; while the Pumpkin Festival arrives in the fall.

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