When one mentions Newtown Creek many thoughts can come to your mind. From the native people who inhabited this area, the Mespit Indians, from where Maspeth derived its name, there was talk of its bountiful shores with game, clams and oysters. Also in the journals of the explorer, Henry Hudson, he wrote of the pleasant smells of the flowers along its shores. It is where the first Dutch settlements on Long Island began and on its shores the village of Maspeth was born. It became an important waterway to move the produce from local farms to Manhattan.
In the 1800’s it became a major industrial location with many industries built along the water’s edge. Industries produced such things as copper, smelting, fat rendering, paint and chemicals, fertilizer and this is where oil was first refined by Standard Oil in 1902. Sadly this was all before there were environmental regulations and Newtown Creek became an open dump for all the waste and all this has left the 3 1/2 mile long waterway in terrible shape.
Those who lived in the area knew it was a place where you didn’t want to go. When the winds would blow the foul smells our way we would joke, “well I guess its low tide at the creek.”
In recent years much has changed, many of the industries have left the area and an effort has begun by local residents and environmental groups to get the companies responsible and the government to clean up one of the most polluted waterways in the nation. This has been designated a Superfund site and they will remove much of the toxic materials from the creek bottom and its shores. Millions of gallons of oil and solvents are under the ground in the aquifer and are being removed by Exxon Mobil. All of this will be a long-term project.
In recent years many people have made Greenpoint their home so they could live in a place that is not exposed to dangerous toxins near the water. Ten years ago the Newtown Creek Alliance was born and the Alliance’s mission was to get people involved to find where the pollution was coming from so it could be reduced for the public to gain access to areas of the creek for planting trees and creating wetlands to help revitalize the creek.
Since the 1970’s with the passage of the Clean Water Act water quality has improved in the waterways around the city with local fish and birds returning and that includes the area of Newtown Creek. One can see fish and shore birds such as egrets, swallows and cormorants among others.
A few years ago the Newtown Creek Nature Walk was completed and it offered people a beautifully designed spot on the creek among the sewage treatment plants, metal scrap barges and a waste transfer station. Here you can learn the history of the creek and see the many native plants that grow in our area and learn their uses. From the walkway there are great views of the surrounding area including the Manhattan skyline and also steps right to the water’s edge. On a nice day you may see people in kayaks and canoes, bird watchers and even adults and children playing with remote controlled boats.
The effort to restore the natural beauty of Newtown Creek that Henry Hudson saw and to remove the harmful chemicals from its waters has begun. If you would like to be involved or want more information contact Newtown Creek Alliance at www.newtowncreekalliance.org