Up the Creek

Twisty estuary: this is a sculptural map of Newtown Creek’s original watershed. The Creek, separating Greenpoint, Brooklyn, from Hunters Point, LIC,Sunnyside, and Blissville, Queens, was long ago renown for its oysters. It’s now a Superfund site, the result of more than a century of industrial pollution. Sections of Greenpoint itself sit on a underground oil spill vastly larger than Exxon Valdez. In the pic above, we’re looking down Whale Creek Canal, a southbound offshoot of the now bulwarked/canalized Creek; this canal used to be twice as long, reaching all the way to Greenpoint Avenue. A wastewater treatment plant now sits on the old canal, and much of the surrounding area. (Lucky Greenpoint to have the trifecta of underground oil spill, toxic Creek, and a wastewater, i.e. sewage, treatment plant!) As part of the facility’s construction, the Newtown Creek Nature Walk was developed. Designed by George Trakas, it opened in 2007. This past weekend was my first visit, courtesy of a friend who lives in Greenpoint.The entrance. Hmm. A “nature walk,” you say? Well, wasps were nesting in a small hole on the underside of this bridge’s rail. The concrete trough leads you around the plant and into the plants.Ah, this is more like it. Actually, the name of this project doesn’t do it justice. It’s a Nature/Culture Walk. Trakas has incorporated industrial ruins and views of the very modern wastewater plant; glacial erratics; a glossary of Native American place names; an homage to ship-building; lists of species once, and in some cases, still present in the Creek; plantings of trees, bushes, flowers, grasses; trash barrels that wink back to the wooden barrels once made in the neighborhood, and much more in a fascinating mixture of things, associations, and histories. As the outskirts of a facility dealing with 600 million gallons of wastewater a day, that’s pretty good. (BTW, NYC has 14 wastewater plants.)Signs warn you to avoid contact with the Creek’s water and sediment, but even in Superfundland there is life. Granite steps engraved with the common and Latin name of species found in the Creek lead down to actual crabs as well as two kinds of mussels and some mud snails; small fish darted in the shallows, which explained the Double-crested Cormorants about. A Spotted Sandpiper was even patrolling this low tide murk and seaweed.

The excellent Forgotten NY travels though the Creek by water, but doesn’t help us with the origin of name “Whale Creek.” Who knows the history here?

2 Responses to “Up the Creek”


  1. 1 Lory Henning September 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Just guessing here, but knowing Charles Pratt (founder of Astral Oil) had a background in refining whale oil in New England, and Astral Oil was the first oil refinery on Newtown Creek, one possibility is that Whale Creek’s name comes from early whale oil refinement industry there.


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