By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Karen Kast died from pancreatic cancer in her early 60s, about two years ago, her friends at the Aqueduct Rowing Club felt compelled to do something significant to remember her. They wanted something beautiful and permanent, and it had to overlook the Mohawk River, one of Kast’s favorite parts of Niskayuna.
“We planted a red maple,” said Nan Kuntz, the club’s president and a close friend of Kast’s. “The maple is a strong tree, and Karen was strong. And the red will, as it grows and you see the foliage, it’ll be different from the other trees around it.”
Kuntz and her fellow rowers, including Kast’s husband, Steve, thought the tree was a nice token. But it wasn’t enough.
“Karen was a longtime member of Aqueduct and one of the most hardworking, energetic, thoughtful, wonderful members of the club,” Kuntz said. “We still feel her loss. We felt it very deeply.”
Kast lived with her family near the club’s boathouse. Her children, Debbie, Alice and Peter, are now adults, but when they were young, they rowed for Niskayuna High School. Kast was co-president of Niskayuna Rowing until they graduated, then transitioned to the Aqueduct Rowing Club and took up oars herself.
“There was a lot of love of the river and of rowing in her life,” Kuntz said.
To pay tribute to Kast’s strengths and passions, Kuntz decided she wanted to add a seating area near the red maple tree.
She thought about the stone blocks she’d seen stacked a short distance from the Mohawk River’s bank, remnants of the now-dismantled aqueduct for which the club is named. Their historical significance and unusual appearance would, Kuntz thought, be better than any bench.
So, in June 2013, not long after the club had finished planting the maple tree, Kuntz wrote a letter to town Supervisor Joe Landry asking if the town could help with the project. She needed permission, and she also needed some serious machinery to move the enormous blocks to their new location.
Landry was on board with the project, though the logistical process took about a year.
“I had to find out who owned the stones,” Landry said. The park itself is owned by New York state, though the town has permission to develop it.
Landry tried a number of different state offices before he figured out who technically owned the pieces of the old aqueduct, which still have numbers painted on the side indicating where they would fit if the aqueduct were ever rebuilt.
Eventually, he connected with the state Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, and officials gave their blessing for the blocks to be repurposed.
Other spots possible
Now that the paperwork is all in order, Landry said the town might spread the historical seating areas all over town.
“We’ll probably try, depending on how this goes, to use them in other parks,” he said.
The pilot project is, so far, quite popular. Kuntz said she was pleased with the final result of several days’ worth of landscaping.
“I went down to look at them, and I did sit down and drink in the scenery, just absorb it all,” she said. “I’m so glad we put it all together. It is so appropriate.”
Of course, true to form, Kuntz still thinks the memorial could be just a little better. She’d like to add a plaque describing the history and purpose of the place.
But until then, it means a lot to be able to simply sit and admire the scenery.