The northeastern tip of the Bronx is where one finds the city’s biggest city-operated park. With 2,772 acres Pelham Bay Park is three times the size of Central Park. The most visited portion of the park is Orchard Beach, the crescent-shaped beach framed by the hilly nature preserves of Hunter and Twin islands.
Having previously written about the lagoon that separates the beach from the rest of the park, there’s also Turtle Cove, a smaller nature preserve inside the park. It is framed by three of the park’s internal roads and a forest.
Throughout New England there are examples of urban streams that powered the industrial revolution and contributed to the development of cities. But as these streams flowed through their respective downtowns, they caused flood damage and with pollution, there were calls to have them confined to culverts and forced underground. In the state of Connecticut: Hartford has the Park River, Waterbury has its Mad River, and Meriden has Harbor Brook. Closer to New York is Danbury, where Still River has a similar history.
Once the hat making center of the country, the mills of Danbury are mostly silent and the shoreline in the city’s downtown appears as an afterthought, confined to a concrete channel as seen above at White Street.
In a ravine on the edge of Queensborough Community College in Bayside is a natural lake whose history is closely tied to the neighboring campus. Oakland Lake received its water from a natural spring and a feeder stream that originated at 223rd Place and Long Island Expressway, flowing in a ravine that widened into the lake. An outflow stream took excess water from the lake east towards Alley Creek, which emptied into Little Neck Bay.
The frozen appearance of this pond in winter conceals its depth as a glacial kettle pond. The pond serves an aesthetic purpose as a park centerpiece and functional as a storm water outlet.
One of the most important roads in southern Nassau County is Peninsula Boulevard, running in a southeast direction from Hempstead to the Five Towns. These are the upscale south shore suburbs of New York City where creeks can be found flowing behind backyards, beneath streets and in this case, on the median of Peninsula Boulevard.
In the community of Hewlett, the ditch that is the eastern branch of Motts Creek doubles as a route for power lines, demonstrating that as it is with highways, the easiest right-of-way for utilities is along waterways.
Among the hidden waterways of New York City, Flushing Creek is my favorite as I continue to find more historical photos, maps, and stories along its course. Among the photos from a century ago is one of Wahnetah Boat Club, which stood on the west bank of Flushing Creek next to Flushing Bridge.
On the 1906 image above from Jason Antos’ book on Flushing, the scene would be unrecognizable today. Taken from the Northern Boulevard Bridge, we see a rowboat heading towards the Whitestone Branch trestle, with the Lawrence family’s Willow Bank estate in the background. The family’s roots here date to 1643, but they knew their ancestry going back to the Crusades and the Roman period!
On the western landing of the Mill Basin Bridge on Belt Parkway, one may notice a sizable wetland bound by the highway, Mill Basin, and Flatbush Avenue. It is home to four rare bird species: the Saltmarsh, Song, Swamp, and Savannah sparrows, resulting in its name, the Four Sparrow Marsh.
With Kings Plaza shopping center to its north and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to its south, Four Sparrow Marsh has been a contented ground between advocates of commerce and natural preservation.
When one finds a lake atop a mountain, it can either be a crater lake or in an urban setting, a reservoir designed to have water flow down the slopes to the people. Between 1858 and 1959 the Ridgewood Reservoir received water from smaller reservoirs on Long Island’s south shore, which was then distributed across the city of Brooklyn. Following Brooklyn’s annexation by New York City, the reservoir was demoted to backup storage until its abandonment in 1990.
From that point, nature took over and the reservoir eventually received the status of a freshwater wetland, a rarity within New York City. Left to its own devices, the stagnant pool of water turned into a wetland and habitat for 137 birds, as recorded by the National Audubon Society. Around its perimeter plants colonized the site, hiding the brickwork beneath thick vegetation. In 1990, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection decommissioned the reservoir and it was assigned to Parks in 2004.
The leading example of a restored urban waterway is the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, a multi-million dollar linear park that has inspired other cities worldwide to follow this example. Among other Korean cities, the southern city of Busan has its own examples of urban streams restored and others that are covered by streets and buildings.
Like New York, Busan is a true metropolis covering smaller former municipalities that it absorbed over the decades. The stream flowing through the city center is the Dongcheon, which runs partially underground with the rest flowing neglected beneath highways. But there are a small signs of a stream revival underway hinting at a greener future.
The green lung at the center of the city’s northern borough is Bronx Park, designed to function as the Bronx’s counterpart to Central Park and Prospect Park. But shortly after its acquisition in 1888, most of this park has been designated for the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. The Bronx River flows through these institutions, and within their grounds is fed by tributaries that are incorporated into the animal and plant exhibits.
One such example is the Native Plant Garden at NYBG, which in 2013 received a postmodern-style pond. The unnamed brook here is the most visible hidden waterway at NYBG, and the question I’m researching is whether it is fed by springs, wells, or the city water supply. Continue reading
The visual centerpiece and namesake of Brookville Park in the Rosedale neighborhood of Queens is the stream flowing through the park. It widens into two ponds before flowing out into the marshes of Idlewild. The larger one is Conselyea’s Pond, which has a long history going back to the American Revolution.
The pond’s namesake is the Conselyea family, descendants of Dutch settlers who owned a gristmill at this pond in the 19th century. The ponds of Brookville Park are part of the much longer Simonson Creek that originates in Elmont, follows the eastern border of Queens, and discharges into Jamaica Bay.