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Paddling Down Polluted Newtown Creek Is Actually Awesome

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One of New York City's most polluted places is actually one of its gems. That would be Newtown Creek, which runs for about 3.5 miles between Queens and Brooklyn, starting between Long Island City and Greenpoint. It is one of several Superfund sites in the five boroughs, with another major one being the decidedly icky Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. What's it like to canoe down a presumably grody waterway? You're about to find out.

Here's a little background on Superfund. Superfund is the nickname for the (warning: PDF!) Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. It was introduced by then New Jersey Rep. Jim Florio to respond to sites where hazardous waste was dumped.

In 2010, the Newtown Creek was designated a Superfund site. Now just how bad was it? According to the EPA, over 50 waste-producing facilities were located on the creek's banks, including "oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards." Many of those operations dumped their unwanted waste into the creek. In addition to that, in 1856, the city itself started dumping raw sewage into the water. In 1978, a United States Coast Guard aerial patrol spotted a plume of oil in the creek. A 2007 report estimated that 30 million gallons of oil had flowed into the creek. That's three times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.

While nowhere near as busy as it once was, the Newtown Creek is still an active commercial waterway. But cleanup efforts continue and the city is no longer regularly dumping raw sewage into the creek (sewage runs into several bodies of water when there is rainfall). The EPA (warning: PDF!) says it is actually safe enough to eat the fish from (in limited quantities, of course) and boat on.

The North Brooklyn Boat Club, which is still hoping to get its own boathouse, organizes canoe trips and took Curbed out for an introductory paddle. It was a tranquil experience. Even though cars drove overhead at some points, it still felt miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here now, a photographic account of the journey. Click through for captions and the whole experience.

There is a lot more than people expect at the Newtown Creek. In addition to the activities for its members, the North Brooklyn Boat Club usually hosts two public paddles a month during the late spring, summer, and early fall months. You just show up, sign a waiver, and get to go out on the water. The club's website has more information. Ahoy!
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Newtown Creek coverage [Curbed]
· All Gowanus Canal coverage [Curbed]
· Outdoors Week 2014 archive [Curbed]