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Hudson River swim for UN prompts DEC investigation into drone use in ADKs

Hudson River just south of Tahawus.
Photo of the Day: Ellie George, Paradox Lake, NY
Hudson River just south of Tahawus.

(NCPR)- A man is swimming the full length of the Hudson River to raise awareness about climate change and the health of rivers. But it appears he used a drone in the Adirondack High Peaks wilderness area, which is illegal.

Lewis Pugh set out on his 315-mile swim on Sunday. He started where the Hudson River starts, at Lake Tear of the Clouds just below Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks.

“I’ve been dreaming about this swim for year after year," Pugh said in a video he posted on Twitter, "to finally be able to swim the full length of the Hudson and we’re at the source, Lake Tear of the Clouds.”

Pugh is an endurance swimmer from England and serves as a Patron of the Oceans for the United Nations, advocating for healthy waterways. His swim from the Adirondacks down the Hudson River to New York City is meant to "highlight the critical role rivers play in a habitable planet," according to his website.

“It’s incredibly peaceful up here and I can hear the water just going down over that waterful just down over there," said in the video on Twitter.

But it appears that a drone was used for video and photos of Pugh at the start of his swim in the Adirondack High Peaks wilderness. According to the New York Times, Pugh is traveling with a team of about 6 people.

It’s illegal to use a drone in wilderness areas around the state. The DEC says it's aware of the incident and is investigating.

Pugh’s apparent drone use also caught the attention of some environmentalists in the Adirondacks.

“Use of a motor vehicle like a drone in a wilderness area sort of ruins the idea of a wilderness area," said Justin Levine from the Adirondack Council. Levine supports Pugh’s mission, spreading awareness about climate change and water protection, but he doesn’t support illegal drone use.

"The way you go about delivering your message and creating the content to deliver that message also has to be taken into account," said Levine.

High Peaks Wilderness.
Photo: Caitlin Kelly
High Peaks Wilderness.

Pugh has been posting about his swim through the Adirondacks on his Twitter page, where he has nearly 60,000 followers. Levine said that makes the apparent drone use even more impactful.

“With the rise of social media, people who have large platforms like the swimmer, really need to be more careful about how they go about doing things," said Levine. "Hopefully he inspires people to care about water quality, but he can’t inspire people to break the law.”

Pugh is expected to finish his swim in New York City by mid-September. That will coincide with the UN General Assembly Week and Climate Week in the city. NCPR reached out to Lewis Pugh’s foundation for comment, but hasn’t heard back.