The Newtown Creek forms the western portion of the border between Queens and Brooklyn. Since the early days of European settlement it’s been host to industrial sites along its banks. No surprise, then, that it’s also a superfund site, thanks largely to the country’s largest oil spill: up to 17 million estimated tons leaking into the soil beneath Greenpoint. The contamination announced itself in 1950 with a BOOM near the intersection of Manhattan Avenue and Huron Street where windows were shattered, manhold covers flew three feet in the air and a crater opened up when petroleum fumes ignited in the sewer system!
Word of the Day: Pollution
From Latin: polluere “to soil, defile, contaminate”
What a day, what a day. Jhevaughn grabbed some of our friends from the Beacon program to join the old pro Jasmine for an arranged tour of the Newtown Creek led by our new friend Mitch Waxman. (We read an excerpt of his profile article in the New York Times!) After a rocky start with some emergent bike repairs, we headed out down the East River path and meandered over to the Queensboro bridge, with more repairs required on the way. Time for some new bikes… eventually. Thank goodness Cyclo-pedia spiritual co-founder Louis Hernandez was with us to help keep it together, fresh off his ride back from Oregon!
Our intrepid crew braved the big bridge, and ran into one of their teachers on the way to the onramp, then Louis ran into one of his former students on the bridge itself. Part of the magic of biking–seeing people on the ride. We wended our way down to the Pulaski where we caught our first glimpse of the Newtown Creek. On our way to Manhattan Avenue we passed a film crew–wonder what they were shooting.
At the end of Manhattan Avenue we found Mitch patiently waiting for us (thanks, Mitch, sorry for the delay) and he gave us the grand tour of the creek and told us all about it’s history. Dutch settlement, equal opportunity employment industrialization, rise of the industrialists, Standard Oil–>(S.O.–>Esso–>Exxon) + (Mobile)–>ExxonMobile, sewage run-off, black mayonnaise, superfund clean-up, re-purposing the industrial buildings, garbage & recycling industry, nature walk, geologic steps, et al. As Mitch puts it, the history of the Newtown Creek is the history of America, good and bad. It was especially interesting to compare the original footprint of the waterway and its tributaries to the current boxed in and compromised borders.
Our dehydrated crew took a much-needed break at the visitor’s center, passing several scrap metal businesses along the way, and had fun playing with the indoor water sculpture. Louis had to head back before us so we parted ways and headed back up Manhattan Avenue where we stopped to take note of the intersection with Huron Street where the 1950 sewer explosion ripped open the ground, shattered shop windows and sent manhole covers flying in the air to announce the presence of the country’s largest oil spill (estimated at up to 17 million gallons!).
We rode closer to the waterfront in Queens on the way back and Jasmine pointed out the back of the big Pepsi sign that we’d spotted from one of the cul-de-sacs on the a.k.a. Avenue A ride. Along the way we received word from Miss Kara that Jasmine had reached 50 miles on the last trip! The crew huffed and puffed back over the Queensboro and up the east side to reach home base, tired but accomplished.
Brooklyn badges all around!
This trip was on August 7, 2012
Programming time: 6 hours
Ride time: 5 hours
Distance: 15.4 miles
Participants: Dominique Boddie, Caleah Deleon, Taina Rivera, Jasmine Romero, Jade Singleton, Zemika White
Leaders: Cappy Collins, Louis Hernandez, Jhevaughn Langley
2012 Newtown Creek