A Greenpoint waterfront park that intersects natural beauty with pollution will double in size.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is embarking on a long-awaited expansion of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk that will link the existing park to the eastern side of Whale Creek. There, visitors will be able to lounge in a new, landscaped green space. The undertaking is an extension of artist George Trakas’ sculptural esplanade off of Newtown Creek, a polluted four-mile inlet of the East River that separates Brooklyn and Queens and is early on in a federal Superfund cleanup.
"The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is a symbol of beauty in the midst of an area impacted by environmental adversity,” said Greenpoint’s Assembly member Joe Lentol. “The Nature Walk’s expansion adds much needed open space and helps to create a vision for Greenpoint where open space, history, and culture are at the forefront.”
The award-winning parkland is tucked away in perhaps the last spot you’d expect to see it—with a neighboring sewage treatment plant, scrapyard, and the lingering stench of industrial wreckage. It initially opened in 2007 to provide access to the waterway, and gave kayakers and canoers a legal launching spot to set out onto the waterway. The Department of Design and Construction broke ground on the new portion this spring, which is funded through the Department of Cultural Affairs’s (DCLA) Percent for Art program. Officials expect its completion by spring 2021.
New features include three 60-foot-long steel “Vessels” with connecting ramps and bridges—visitors to the current Newtown Creek Nature Walk enter through a boat-shaped 170 foot walkway called the Vessel. On the eastern side of the creek, a 430-foot long walkway will be landscaped with trees, stone benches, rain gardens, and tree fossils—or petrified wood—from the city’s Schoharie Reservoir, according to DEP. Once completed, park-goers will be able to access the walk from Kingsland or Paidge avenues.
The Nature Walk offers respite from the creek’s industrial landscape, but also seeks to promote interest in the waterway and educate those who amble there about the area’s history.
Currently, native plant species and rocks that date back to the most recent ice age occupy the space, design elements pay tribute to the Lenape people who once lived in Greenpoint, and portholes in the Vessel allow onlookers to peer into DEP’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant—the largest sewage treatment facility in the city. The space functions as a sort of living art exhibit of the area’s history, said one city official.
“The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is a wonderful example of how art, infrastructure, and nature can come together to create an experience that helps us better understand the evolution of our own city,” said DCLA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.
Construction on the Nature Walk progresses as city, state, and federal officials work to lessen Newtown Creek’s legacy of pollution. But those efforts have a long way to go with the cleanup in its infancy and officials working to contain and address properties that are oozing oil into the creek.