The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

sprightly cleric

with 6 comments

Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
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Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

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6 Responses

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  1. Just curious, Mitch. Can anybody just plop a canoe or a kayak in the creek and paddle around? What’s the legality on this?

    georgetheatheist . . . row, row, row your boat

    July 29, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    • entirely legal. There are particular bulkheads which are security zones where you’ll draw attention to yourself – National Grid, the BP/Amoco yard and so on. I’d recommend going out with North Brooklyn Boat Yard or Harborlab for the first trip, just to pick up their experience in staying safe and learning the water. There’s considerable tug and sludge boat traffic on the reaches from East River to GPA Bridge. You want to have the usual safety kit – vests, maritime radios etc. but human powered boating is increasing exponentially, year by year, on the Creek.

      Mitch Waxman

      July 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      • One more thing. After you and others paddle around the Creek waters, do you immediately shower? At home? Elsewhere? Or maybe launder your clothes? I’m serious about this.

        georgetheatheist . . . row, row, row your boat

        July 29, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      • Hand and face wash are immediate, and the protocol is to leave your shoes in the hallway. As soon as I get home, a bath happens. Hand and face are the direct pathway to GI tract.

        Mitch Waxman

        July 29, 2016 at 12:56 pm

  2. Thanks. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness. However, seems like a long time between exiting the Creek vessel until home in Astoria. The Creek germs seem to me like they have a long time to fester. Also, I’ve always been told that a shower is more hygienic than a bath.

    georgetheatheist . . . row, row, row your boat

    July 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    • yes George, a shower. and no, I don’t strip down in front of a hydrant and “silkwood” myself in the street. One of the reasons I suggest going out the NBBC or Harborlab is that they don’t launch in proximity to rain events when the water is teeming with bacteria. As I said – learn the water.

      Mitch Waxman

      July 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm

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