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Underused Stretch of Long Island City Envisioned as Rich Urban Wilderness

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The proposal envisions a haven of urban wildlife along a one-third mile stretch of rail line

A proposal has been released to open up the Montauk Cutoff, a short abandoned rail line of Long Island City, to the public as a haven of urban wilderness. Brooklyn Grange and Bang Studio released the plan, dubbed the Wild Line, with an intent to "transform the Long Island City community by injecting a new sense of life: creating new kinds of habitat for animals, humans, birds, insects, and microorganisms."

But first, a little about the Montauk Cutoff, which Camera Obscura explored last year. The cutoff, a 4.2-acre strip which only runs one-third of a mile, was constructed in the early 1900s for freight trains. It was in decline for many years and was long ago decommissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. More recently, the MTA asked for ideas on how to transform it—Aaron Donovan, a spokesperson for the MTA, said in Camera Obscura that "we'd love to see a broad, creative range of ideas come forward."

The Wild Line seems to be the first idea proposed for its transformation. Brooklyn Grange imagines taking this former industrial site and making it a home to a new natural environment with native plantings and wildlife. It’ll be a place for New Yorkers to explore, too, as "a sanctuary for urban dwellers across the city" with opportunities for social and educational events.

The plan revolves around three guiding principals. The first is to "create a gradient of wilderness" in which the Wild Line becomes more wild as it moves from north to south. The second is to leave the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a community garden that’s located by the north end of the tracks, in tact so as to co-exist as a neighbor to the Wild Line. Finally, they envision controlled public access from three different access points. The southern end will hold a wildlife preserve totally off limits to the public.

There’s a lot of focus on all things native: meadow plantings will be native to the northeast region, with "bug hotels," "bat condos" and bird houses all designed specifically to attract native insects and animals. To help support the plantings, there will be opportunities for compost drop-off, as well as infrastructure to compost on site. A few fun additions include "Firefly Field," a site-specific lighting installation that mimics the flickering glow of fireflies, and "compost flowers" at the entrances, which will serve as actual compost bins but also as an educational base to learn about the urban nature preserve.

Brooklyn Grange envisions the Wild Line to be supported by a team of local partnerships—and the idea of its transformation already received plenty of support and interest from the community at a meeting late last year. This proposal has already received a blessing of support from the NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. It joins yet another plan to transform one of Queens’ abandoned railways, the Queensway.