Francis Lewis Park, Queens

Not to be confused with the borough-spanning boulevard of the same name, Francis Lewis Park is a 17-acre waterfront parcel on the East River in Whitestone under the Whitestone Bridge. Surrounded by tract mansions, this park offers public access to the water’s edge on land that once belonged to a Founding Father.

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The park is comprised of a bowl-shaped lawn that widens towards a beach on the East River with Ferry Point Park on the opposite shore. On the west side of the lawn are a playground and sports courts.

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Hidden Waters of Great Neck, NY

Across the city line from the Queens neighborhood of Little Neck is the Great Neck peninsula of Nassau County. The name Great Neck includes the Village of Great Neck, eight other villages, and a handful of communities that share an upscale appearance with plenty of woodland and backyard space where hidden waters flow between the properties. Each stream has its own history that relates to the story of Great Neck.

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In particular, one unnamed creek flows a couple of blocks from my uncle’s house and after a few visits, I followed it from its source to the sea.

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Rainey Park, Queens

In contrast to the shoreline of Manhattan, which is almost entirely ringed by a connected series of parks, the western shore of Queens has parks separated by power plants and other public utilities, preventing an uninterrupted walk on the water’s edge.

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Rainey Park is sizable but not so visible among the shoreline parks on account of its location and seemingly empty appearance.

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Bubbly Creek, Chicago

For the Midwestern metropolis of Chicago, the city’s face is the shore of Lake Michigan, an inland sea lined with freshwater beaches within walking distance of downtown skyscrapers. Chicago’s namesake river used to flow into Lake Michigan but by 1900 was carved into a canal and had its flow reversed, taking water out of the lake, flowing southwest in a series of canals that fed into the Mississippi watershed.

One reason for this massive engineering project was the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, better known as Bubbly Creek. Subject to pollution coming from the country’s largest stockyard, this hidden waterway is Chicago’s version of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. The above photo shows the rail bridge carrying the Heritage Corridor commuter line across the creek.

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Willow Lake, Queens

Tune out the two highways on either side of this 47-acre lake, and perhaps then this wildlife sanctuary can be appreciated by visitors. Located at the southern tip of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is an ideal place for social distancing during this difficult time.

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The setting is naturalistic, the result of the master plan for the 1939 World’s Fair that set aside a portion of Flushing Meadows that would be left alone.

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Fewer Traces of Horse Brook, Queens

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.

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On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.

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Conference House Park, Staten Island

The borough that offers the biggest collection of hidden waterways also has the southernmost point in the state of New York at Conference House Park. Known historically as Ward’s Point, the tip of land where Arthur Kill flows into Raritan Bay has an unnamed brook that shares its location’s superlative as the state’s southernmost stream.

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The brook flows entirely within the  park, at its conclusion meeting the sea with views of South Amboy and the hills of Cheesequake State Park. Lovely name.

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Cunningham Pond, Staten Island

The largest state-owned open space on the Staten Island is a former Catholic orphanage that contains a set of freshwater ponds but the air here is salty on account of nearby Raritan Bay.

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On the grounds of the Mount Loretto Unique Area, Cunningham Road runs across the property from its thick forest to the seashore, atop an embankment that separates Cunningham Pond from Mount Loretto Pond.

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Huerva, Zaragoza

The first emperor of the Roman Empire is eternally honored with the eighth month on the calendar, but that’s not all. In the Spanish region of Aragon, the city of Zaragoza derives its name from Ceasaraugusta, a spot on the map in memory of Augustus Caesar. The city’s main river is the Ebro, which flows for 580 miles across Spain. Beneath the city’s boulevards is a tributary stream, the Huerva that briefly experienced sunlight in 2010 before it was covered up again in favor of a linear park.

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The height of the tunnel raises possibilities of underground tours here, and its narrow width also begs the question whether this stream can be daylighted after nearly a century of darkness.

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Source of Westchester Creek, Bronx

Westchester Creek is a head-scratcher for travelers as it is named after the county north of The Bronx, but doesn’t flow anywhere near it and never did. Prior to 1895, eastern Bronx was part of Westchester County and the neighborhood near this stream is named Westchester Square. This explains the stream’s name.

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The present Westchester Creek is a tidal inlet of the East River with its head at East Tremont Avenue. Prior to the 1950s, the creek flowed further inland where the Bronx Psychiatric Center and the Hutchinson Metro Center stand today. When there’s enough rainfall, a vernal pond next to this office complex hints at the phantom stream that flowed here.

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