The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Maspeth Creek

sacred grove

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek, at low tide, does not smell like lilacs. A lot of that is due to the natural actions and out gassing of exposed mud flats, but the miasma which plagues the area around it is due to the combined sewer outfall (CSO NC-077, which discharges better than 288 million gallons a year of untreated sewerage into the water). The waterway, severely truncated and canalized, was locked into its current shape and size back in 1914 by the Army Corps of Engineers at the behest of the United States War Department. Nearby was the LIRR Haberman siding, and this was a strategic locale during the early 20th century full of chemical plants and manufacturing companies.

Once, Maspeth Creek ran nearly all the way to Elmhurst, rather than ending in an open sewer.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Descriptions of this area, in particular, tickle the fancy of those who come to Newtown Creek with preconceived notions about the place. Here they find stink and sediment mounds, and witness abandoned cars dissolving slowly into its waters. As early as 1908, reports of the area describe it as a “dismal swamp, distributing evil smells and ugly to the last degree.” Witnesses in the early 20th century detailed the presence of railroad yards, factories, acid running from open pipes into the water, fat boiling in open vessels, oil works and chemical yards.

Nearby were the bone blackers, fat renderers, and every sort of malodorous occupation imaginable.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It is mysterious, to me, that I have been unable to find mention of the place in literature from the so called “muck raker” era whose setting involves this area- the closest you get is in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Accounts of Packing Town in Chicago abound, notably in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Nellie Bly drew a cogent picture of being institutionalized on Blackwells Island in “10 days in a madhouse” and everyone from Walt Whitman to Horace Greely have left behind accounts of the miseries of Manhattan’s working class communities and the horrible conditions encountered around the factories which lined its riverfront shorelines.

How odd it is that this spot, so close to the geographic center of New York City and with a rich colonial era history, has escaped comment by any other than just a few long dead journalists and a half dead yet humble narrator.

Upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

unknown magic

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

After the event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Friday the 26th, Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director Kate Zidar and I had to hurry over to another location on the troubled waterway for a second event.

This one was taking place at the Maspeth Creek tributary in Queens.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Newtown Creek Alliance  invite you to a special event to celebrate New York’s wildlife and Earth Week!

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DEC have released a new book as part of the “watchable wildlife” initiative, which seems to be a state wide effort to promote eco tourism. The administrative head of the NYC region 2 is Venetia Lannon, who is actually a very cool person in real life, and she was there to speak to the gathered bird enthusiasts, Newtown Creek Alliance members and Creek devotees, as well as members of the local press.

from dec.ny.gov

Whether it’s the spectacle of a soaring eagle or a glimpse of a river otter, here you’ll find what you need to plan a great wildlife viewing experience in New York State. DEC’s wildlife experts help you learn where to find wildlife, what sounds to listen for, or when to look for your favorite animal. Find a full list of wildlife viewing sites in New York State with many new locations just released and see our full list of wildlife species.

Have you checked out the new New York Wildlife Viewing Guide? In it you’ll find more than 100 of New York’s best sites to see wildlife near home or while on a trip. New York State has millions of acres of state parks and forests, preserves, and wildlife management areas (WMAs) each offering tremendous opportunities for wildlife and nature viewing. Take along the New York Wildlife Viewing Guide on your next outdoor adventure! Available soon for your E-reader and electronic devices; purchase a copy on the web, in bookstores, or at watchablewildlife.org.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the DEC’s watchable wildlife book, a lushly illustrated guide book which details opportune spots around the state to observe and experience the splendors of nature, NCA was also premiering our “Birds of Newtown Creek” poster. A bunch of my photos are on the poster, and it discusses the various fauna which have been documented by our group in the last few years.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Newtown Creek has its fair share of un-sung heroes…tug boat captains maneuvering barges piled high, sewer plant operators and garbage handlers doing the invisible work of processing mountains of waste each day… come out with us to explore the un-sung heroes of Newtown Creek’s WILDLIFE.  Each day, spindly-legged egrets and herons work the exposed, fetid sediment mounds in the upper tributaries looking for a hot lunch, and ever-stylish cormorants display their wings as they air-dry on the floating booms that corral waste oil and trash.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s NCA’s Kate Zidar in the shot above, who is one of the smartest people I know. Kate discussed the various species which we’ve documented at the Creek with our ornithologically inclined partners and friends.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Kate Zidar (Executive Director) is an Environmental Planner with a professional focus on watershed management.  As Executive Director of NCA, she works to strike a balance between waterfront access, environmental health and economic development for the city’s most polluted waterway. Kate serves as Chairperson of the Steering Committee for the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) Coalition, an organization committed to ensuring swimmable, fishable waters around New York City through Green Infrastructure. Kate teaches graduate courses in Writing, Solid Waste Management and Green Infrastructure at Pratt Institute. Kate has experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors, consulting previously for the Planning Center at Municipal Art Society, NYC Housing Authority, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership and Habana Outpost. Kate is a founding member of the North Brooklyn Compost Project, and a board member of the Lower East Side Ecology Center. She holds a BS in Biology from the University of Colorado, and an MS in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center For Planning and the Environment.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek has long been a source of fascination for me, given its significant historical importance and somewhat feral modern incarnation. The bulkheads on either bank of this tributary have been allowed to decay over the course of the 20th century, and as such, nature has reclaimed them. The “soft edges” allow cormorants and other birds to escape the mid day sun and the shallow waters are teeming with invertebrate life.

Unfortunately, an enormous CSO (combined sewer outfall) is here, which continually poisons the water with sewage and industrial runoff.

from dec.ny.gov

Combined sewer systems (CSS) are sewer systems that are designed to collect storm water runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe and bring it to the publicly owned treatment works (POTW) facilities.

During rain events, when storm water enters the sewers, the capacity of the sewer system may be exceeded and the excess water will be discharged directly to a waterbody (rivers, streams, estuaries, and coastal waters).

The untreated water may contain untreated sewage that may impact human health. For information about the general CSO wet weather advisory and links to the CSO outfall map visit the CSO Wet Weather Advisory web page.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Kate Zidar has a few plans for this part of the Newtown Creek watershed which I’m not sure I’m authorized to discuss, but if she manages to pull even a fraction of them off, it will change things for the better around this waterway. Maspeth Creek is one of those rare spots where neighboring property owners, environmental officials, and neighborhood activists are on the “same page” and exciting stuff is in the works.

from wikipedia

Before the nineteenth century urbanization and industrialization of the surrounding neighborhoods, Newtown Creek was a longer and shallower tidal waterway, and wide enough that it contained islands. It drained parts of what are now the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Long Island City in Queens. During the second half of the nineteenth century it became a major industrial waterway, bounded along most of its length by retaining walls, the shipping channel maintained by dredging. The Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, mainly a freight line, runs along the North bank.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A display table, pictured above, offered samples of both the NCA Bird Poster and the DEC Watching Wildlife book to the curious and interested alike.

For a free pdf of the NCA “Birds of Newtown Creek” Poster, click here.

Also: Upcoming Tours!

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

sinister swamp

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding. 

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek overflowed its banks during the surge, and flooded surrounding properties. Luckily, from a humanist point of view, these are industrial sites. Unfortunately, from an economic and environmental point of view, Maspeth Creek is pretty polluted under best case circumstances. All of the businesses nearby had pumps at work and their loading bay doors were wide open, no doubt to aid in drying the places out.

My understanding is that several of these businesses lost entire inventories, and are dealing with untold contaminations of their work place.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The day after the storm, Newtown Creek Alliance distributed video and photos of what was going on here, and it seemed that one of the videos depicted the large CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) as submerged and emitting raw sewage into the surging water. The material so disgorged must have ended up everywhere. The fellow who was giving me a ride around the watershed, Hank the Elevator Guy, decided to stay in the car for this spot.

A point was made of stamping out my shoes before reentering the vehicle.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We continued on to our next destination, the Maspeth Plank Road. It was impossible to approach the water, as the always swampy soil was absolutely gelatinous. Unsure as to what might be hidden in the vegetation and not wanting to accidentally pierce my skinvelope via a hidden bit of metal or glass (everything you’re looking at in these posts should be considered highly contaminated), caution was held tightly against the wind and I decided to see what I could see from the pavement.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What was visible was essentially Brooklyn, where the coastline of the former Furmans Island remained unchanged, except for one thing. There was virtually zero activity, and this stretch of Maspeth Avenue is normally abuzz with trucks and heavy equipment. The sound of pumping was not as evident coming from this direction, best described by Maspeth Avenue’s landward intersection with Vandervoort.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Some water moves between the largish “aggregates” company next door and Newtown Creek, which is the product of its workers complying with dust abatement rules by spraying water on the mounds of soil and stone they process and sell. The ground, however, was highly saturated this day. Normally, this little pathway has a trickle of water flowing through, not the small creek which you see in these shots.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Discretion, valor, and the better part of both demanded that I not try to walk closer to the water. Again, anything you might encounter close to the shore of the Creek after this event is likely coated with filth. Filth, that is, if you’re lucky. All manner of chemicals and fuel products were loosed in the flood waters, and sewer bacteria is merely the tip of the periodic table of possibilities of what you might be exposed to here.

The smell on the air here was not unlike the commercial disinfectant spray sold under the Lysol brand.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody’s friends at Riverkeeper have released a bit of an advisory on what to expect around the waters edge, and how to protect yourself in some way from it. The logic of storm surges and their aftermath demands that a tremendous amount of material will find its way into the water conventionally- down storm drains or washed over the edge- or unconventionally- as submerged fuel and chemical tanks leech their contents into the water.

Be real, real careful when nearby the shoreline, lords and ladies.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2012 at 12:15 am

it shines and shakes and laughs

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

How one has missed the filth and degradation. Rendering the urgency of returning to these places, lonely and swept by a poisonous fume called wind, and finding the lessons offered has been a source of great angst for your humble narrator. It is difficult to describe my personal experience with these lots and parcels, or defend my deep affection for something like the former Phelps Dodge property at Laurel Hill. This is a shunned place, avoided by all given a choice, yet one finds himself moving inexorably toward it after pinning cap to head and telling “Our Lady of the Pentacle” that “I’m going out for a walk”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There is little honey to be found here, unless one uses the euphemism favored by DEP employees for the material they handle. Everywhere is a concretized and apocalyptic post industrial landscape and active culture of garbage handlers and warehouse employees. Barren, the landscape enjoys only the crudest amenities. Street trees are quickly shattered by trucks, and a loose sandy gravel seemingly composed of powderized automotive glass reflects a weak and diffuse light transmitted by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, a ghastly and shambling outcast scuttling about in a filthy black raincoat, the only thought a place like Maspeth Creek can evince is “Hallelujah”. Every suspicion about the truth of the great human hive is manifest here, and condemnation of society at large is readily at hand. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to this forgotten valley of corrupted nature, as it mirrors the sickness in my own thoughts. An inch behind my eyes, I believe, is naught but black mayonnaise.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe I am “all ‘effed up”, but to me, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. “Welcome to Newtown Creek”, say I, with hardly any sense or ironic humor or twee dispatch.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 12, 2012 at 12:15 am

something disquieting

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Truly does one struggle against the darkness. A vast and slavering dog, it is checked and kept by sturdy chains with a stout collar, but it is always just a few steps behind. Were it let loose, the very pillars of the world would crumble and shake. Caged, a storm rages, with cyclonic fires whose winds carry exultations of lament- and all of hell follows in its wake. Better to get out than dwell upon existential angst, and visit that ribbon of urban neglect known as the fabled Newtown Creek, so off I went.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Witness, if you will, the sort of life which inhabits this debased waterway. Once common, wading birds like this (presumptively) Great Blue Heron have returned to the shallows and sediment mounds in recent years. While photographing this nearly cryptic specie, your humble narrator was approached by a private security man. Girding for the usual lecture given by the “rent a cops” of the Creeklands, I was instead pleasantly surprised when the fellow engaged me in conversation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The guardsman claimed that he had witnessed a startling and unexpected mammalian apparition on more than one occasion at Maspeth Creek. The animal he described as inhabiting the shoreline cannot possibly be here, as it would defy all logic and sense. Dogs, cats, rats- even raccoons and coyotes have been reported with some frequency over the years. Their presence is logical, explainable, and entirely mundane. The security guard however, told me that he has seen a Beaver here. “A musk rat” I suggested? “No, a beaver”, he said.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 2012 at 12:15 am

occasionally titanic

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Obsequious sarcasm will no doubt greet this posting, given the notion propagated by area wags that the Newtown Creek watershed is irrevocably poisoned, but early last week an expedition was mounted along the bulkheads whose express goal was to count and identify those avian lifeforms which inhabit its legend haunted shores.

Organized by the Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director herself, our small party met in the wee hours of the morning at a coffee shop familiar to all residents of Long Island City and sallied forth.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Two field experts consented to this mission, both familiar with the mores of ornithological clade and classification. Our group visited several sites which have often displayed a surprising diversity of birds, and over the course of our little expedition they described eleven distinct specie.

Every time that your humble narrator attempts to name a bird, corrections flood in, and accordingly this link is offered to the birdsbugsbuds.com blog by Shari Romar (who was one of the folks who undertook this trip) for genus, family, or common name. Additionally, Ross Diamond wrote a description of the day at this Newtown Creek Alliance page (wonder who that weirdo in the red baseball cap is, standing on the fence like he owns the place).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the spots decided on for this mission was obvious, as the multiple decade long abandonment of the Maspeth Creek tributary by industrial interests has resulted in the formation of significant “habitat” along its wooded shorelines. Cursed by a large CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) at its terminus, Maspeth Creek often exhibits large slicks of garbage, fats, and other sediments which find their way into the wastewater flow. Nevertheless, the decaying shorelines provide ample purchase for coastal grasses and other marsh plants to grow.

This vegetation, in turn, offers hiding places for small fish and crustacea which attract birds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek has been, and often still is, used as an illegal dump- of course. These sunken automobiles are de facto “iconic” Newtown Creek shots, and often photographed by thrill seeking urban explorers- including your humble narrator.

What made my morning, however, was the cormorant hunting in the waters amongst them. As described in earlier posts, and by all accounts, there is a startling diversity of benthic and littoral life to be found here- in waters recently described by at least one NY State environmental official as “anoxic, and a dead sea”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Firmly held, your humble narrator clings to the belief that if the human infestation could only forget about finding new ways to exploit Newtown Creek and it’s tributaries- whether it be burning garbage to generate electricity, or the installation of vast new populations along its shores, or just finding a way to not have raw sewage belch filth directly into the water every time it rains- that nature itself would and could perform the necessary remediation of its poisons.

Adaptation and the evolutionary process, rather than some cold and industrial methodology, might be all that is required.

On the other hand, some mutant race of atavist cormorants might arise from the Newtown Creek, leading to the extinction of mankind itself so maybe we should just pave over the place- as suggested by certain members of the aforementioned community referred to as “area wags” at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

closely questioned

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The last few weeks have seen your humble narrator not so humbly leading groups of enthusiasts around the Newtown Creek on walking tours. This is a tremendous exertion for one such as myself, for to be seen by so many diminishes me. Unfortunately, a lot of the places I’d really like to show off are remotely located, with limited if any access. One of these spots is Maspeth Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Once a major tributary, and now quite minor, Maspeth Creek has been largely abandoned by industry. It’s depth is shallow, and is beset by an enormous CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) at its terminus. A “floatables boom” cuts it off from the main body of the Newtown Creek and causes great amalgamations of trash to agglutinate in shallows and along its banks.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Somehow, despite the endemic pollution in the sediments and mud and the constant flow of sewage, nature has begun to take the waterway back unto itself. My understanding is that the sediments here are teeming with invertebrates, worms and crabs and the like, which draw in exotic fauna like the Cormorants in the first shot and the Kingfisher Yellow-crowned Night Heron pictured above. One of the more disturbing aspects of a recently announced DEP/DEC plan to install aeration wands here (to raise the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water) is that the project will most likely obliterate this colony of birds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I have personally observed fish and eels swimming in the water here, which is quite obviously what has drawn these breeding colonies of birds to the spot. Cormorants in particular are diving birds which eat fish and crabs, which indicates that there is enough oxygen in the water to support… fish and crabs. How I wish that some of the dozens of people who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the Creek with in the last few weeks were the engineers in Albany and Manhattan who cook up these plans, but they don’t seem to be interested in coming here.

Also:

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An NCA event, which I for one am pretty stoked about:

April NCA meeting hosts Dr. Eric Sanderson

Tonight. Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 6pm


Ridgewood Democratic Club, 
6070 Putnam Avenue, 
Ridgewood, NY 11385

In addition to important updates from our members – in particular the Bioremedition Workgroup has been very busy! – we will be hosting a special presentation on the “Historical Ecology of Newtown Creek”.

Dr. Eric Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and author of “Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City” (Abrams, 2009), will describe recent studies of the historical ecology of Newtown Creek, describing the original wetlands, creek channels, topography and vegetation of the area. He will show a series of 18th and 19th century maps of the watershed of the creek and discuss the process of synthesizing them into an integrated ecological picture that can be used to inform and inspire natural restoration and cultural appreciation of the Newtown Creek watershed. This work is part of the Welikia Project (welikia.org), an investigation into the historical ecology of the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding waters. The Welikia Project on Newtown Creek is funded by The NYCEF Newtown Creek Fund of the Hudson River Foundation.

And this Saturday,

Obscura Day 2012, Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills

Saturday April 28th, 10 a.m.

Your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at this year’s Obscura Day event on April 28th, leading a walking tour of Dutch Kills. There are a few tickets left, so grab them while you can.

“Found less than one mile from the East River, Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractible bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards — it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.”

For tickets and full details, click here :

obscuraday.com/events/thirteen-steps-dutch-kills-newtown-creek-exploration

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2012 at 12:15 am

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