Gowanus

A new take on social distancing: canoeing the Gowanus Canal

March 18, 2020 Scott Enman

A group of Brooklyn residents is taking social distancing to the next level — by canoeing in the middle of the Gowanus Canal.

Members of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, an organization that has been traversing the federal Superfund site for more than 20 years, were seen on Monday and Tuesday shouting from boats on the toxic waters, advocating for residents to support local establishments during the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled many small businesses.

Gowanus Canal
The Gowanus Canal. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“Eat local tonight!” screamed Owen Foote from just below the Carroll Street Bridge. “Have them deliver! They’re open!”

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As of Wednesday morning, 1,339 New York City residents had tested positive for the virus.

Brooklyn businesses, especially small ones, have been taking a hit from the outbreak, with many shutting down completely, while others have been forced to lay off employees so that they can apply for state unemployment insurance until the restaurants can reopen, Eater reported.

Brad Vogel, captain of the Gowanus Dredgers. Vogel and Owen Foote have been urging neighbors to support local businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Eighty-four percent of the borough’s 61,300 businesses have fewer than 10 employees, according to the office of the State Comptroller.

New Yorkers are not permitted to dine inside restaurants, but with eateries still permitted to deliver food and takeout alcohol, Foote and Vogel said it was vital that the local community order in rather than cook inside their homes.

“It’s important for people to remember that they can do something,” said Brad Vogel, captain of the canoe club. “Any individual’s actions can have an effect at this time. To the extent that you love a Gowanus restaurant or bar or establishment, do something. Do something to help them get through this rough patch.


Owen Foote of the Gowanus Dredgers canoes along the Gowanus Canal to the Carroll Street Bridge on March 17, 2020. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“Buy a gift certificate, go order out from them right now. Show them that you support them in some fashion because it’s going to be important for them make it through to the other side.”

Using the hash tag #GowanusStrong, the Canoe Club compiled a list of Gowanus restaurants, cafes and shops that are open, along with their delivery links. It also includes resources on other ways to help during these trying times.

Owen Foote, founder of the Gowanus Dredgers, canoes along the Gowanus Canal to the Carroll Street Bridge on March 17. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

“The character of Gowanus is not just our waterway. It’s our surrounding community, including our businesses,” Foote said. “That’s very important to us. We enjoy our local self-made establishments. We’ve got to keep them alive.

“These people have very small margins. They’re restaurateurs. They’ve got to pay the rent. They’ve got to support their crew. Now’s the time to step up.”

Related: Gowanus Canal cleanup: Where it stands 10 years later

If one is in the middle of the 100-foot-wide waterway, he or she is not likely to contract the coronavirus. But better not fall in, as the waterway has tested positive for a litany of diseases over the years, including typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis and gonorrhea.

“Eat local tonight!” Owen Foote shouted to passersby from his canoe. “Have them deliver! They’re open!” . Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

As for their close proximity within the canoe? Foote assured the Brooklyn Eagle that from bow to stern, it’s about six feet — a perfectly safe distance.

Asked whether he’d prefer to take a plunge or contract the coronavirus, Vogel took a moment to think.

“I’d take my chances in the canal,” he said. “I’ve been out there enough where maybe I’ve built some immunity to it.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.


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