Riverkeeper’s 6th annual sweep brings a spit & polish to the Hudson River & tributaries
Brooklyn-based Volunteers Join Forces with Newtown Creek Alliance & NY State’s ‘I Love My Park’ Day
Riverkeeper’s sixth annual sweep brought volunteers in to clean 90 sites along the Hudson River Valley on May 6, from Albany to Brooklyn Bridge Park. One Brooklyn location, East River State Park, received twice the love because Riverkeeper’s sweep coincided with New York state’s “I Love My Park” day, another annual event that brings volunteers into state parks to clean, help build amenities and generally get the parks in top notch shape for the coming season.
Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization that calls itself “New York’s clean water advocate” and whose mission, according to its website, is “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries.”
“We had a great turn out,” Riverkeeper Coordinator for East River State Park, Michal Karwat said. “I was honestly surprised — there were maybe 20 or more people here just for East River Park.”
By early afternoon, most of the volunteers were already gone, but the narrow sandy berm and rocky shoreline that line both East River State Park and the adjacent, city-run, Bushwick Inlet Park, were pristine and already taken over by park visitors, drawn in large numbers by Saturday’s Flea Market Smorgasburg, which takes place alongside East River State Park, on 90 Kent St., every Saturday from April to October, and on Sundays in Prospect Park.
Given that the parks receive fewer visitors in the colder months preceding May, volunteers reported finding more industrial effluvia from the factories and construction sites upriver than litter along the banks. Brooklyn resident Josh Jupiter displayed the intact frame from a worksite scaffold he had pulled from the water.
Going beyond merely tidying up a shoreline park, Riverkeeper and Newtown Creek Alliance members gathered at the site of what was once the Brooklyn end of the Meeker Street Bridge — or “Penny Bridge” as it became popularly known because the first toll to cross was one penny — to reclaim the trash and rubble-strewn landing as a park for nearby industrial workers to spend a few quiet moments alongside Newtown Creek.
“It’s a tough spot to reach,” Newtown Creek Alliance volunteer Lisa Bloodgood concedes. Indeed, the onetime landing sits tucked behind a corrugated metal shed at the end of Meeker Avenue, boxed landward by industrial parking lots, and a stained concrete retaining well overlooking the creek. Paving stones are scattered amid the dark rich soil, and a massive iron framework emerges partway from the ground, enmeshed with the roots of a venerable elm tree.
“We saw some workers on their lunch breaks,” Bloodgood went on, “and we asked them would they like to come here on their breaks if there were places to sit and eat. They told us they would.”
“Penny Bridge Park,” as the volunteers working there have tentatively named it, is the humblest of potential recreation spaces — maybe 1,000 square feet almost completely hidden from the landward approaches, with basic amenities — Alliance members propose adding a pair of picnic tables — but a first-class view of Newtown Creek.
“There are so few actual approaches to the bank here on the Brooklyn side,” Newtown Creek Alliance Project Manager Willis Elkins pointed out.
By early summer, when volunteers expect the new mini-park to be complete, it will join the Newtown Creek Nature Walk and North Brooklyn Boat Club’s Living Dock as the only public access points to the south bank of Newtown Creek.
Riverkeeper began in 1966 when fishermen along the Hudson River, alarmed by deterioration of water quality from Albany to New York City, gathered to form the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association to patrol for environmental polluters and urge stricter environmental legislation.
Today Riverkeeper continues to work on behalf of the Hudson River and all of its tributaries. The organization recently celebrated NY State’s decision to close the Indian Head Nuclear Reactor set on the lower Hudson River below West Point well ahead of its scheduled shut down on 2022.
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