Mark Christie, HarborLAB volunteer and Vice President of Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, with bouquets of goldenrod seeds. Hunters Point Community Middle School student in the background. (Photo by Erik Baard)
HarborLAB had a fantastic winter day of gathering goldenrod and beach rose seeds with Hunters Point Community Middle School students! Many thanks to biology teacher Mary Matthai and Principle Sarah Goodman, and to the students! Thanks also to Vice President Mark Christie of the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
Through this exercise the students learned about bioremediation, shore ecology, evolved means of seed propagation, combined sewer overflows, and genetic diversity. We asked that the school choose only five students for each round of work to avoid trampling habitats.
HarborLAB is creating a marine-to-uplands habitat restoration on the Newtown Creek. We call this project the “GreenLaunch.” Citizens Committee for NYC gave us funds for initial work, which HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson oversees. We’ve applied to the Hudson River Foundation for a larger Newtown Creek Fund grant. We hope our City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Assembly Representative Catherine Nolan will also partner with us as a wonderful (and only) Queens environmental group based on the creek, and support our work.
Central to the GreenLaunch, conceived by HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard, is a living shoreline stabilized using methods recommended by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. We’re applying for fresh earth from the NYC Soil Bank. Roots from native, saltwater tolerant plantings will hold soil down. We’re gathering seeds from milkweed, pokeberry, goldenrod, beach plums, and beach rose to start. We have MillionTreesNYC shadbush (service berry), hackberry, sassafras, and other native saplings to further strengthen this slope. Milkweed and goldenrod sustain endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Our berry bushes and trees, and rose hips, have deep root systems and feed birds. Below this slope, in the intertidal zone, we’ll grow cordgrass and mussels.
Mitch Waxman, crouching, and MAS Jane’s Walk participants in front of the HarborLAB gate and boats. Newtown Creek Alliance board member Laura Risi Hofmann towards the left, in bright blue shirt. Photo by Erik Baard.
HarborLAB was honored to be a featured stop on the Greenpoint-to-Long Island City “DUPBO” 2014 Jane’s Walk. Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman guided the tour, a walking conversation, sharing insights about development, preservation, sustainability, resilience, and cultural vitality. In NYC, the prestigious Municipal Art Society organizes the annual, free urban planning walks honoring Jane Jacob‘s spirit of criticism and query.
What made our site so interesting? It’s that we’re creating the greatest length of green, soft shoreline on the Newtown Creek!
Many thanks to Citizens Committee for NYC for our seed grant (more on that to come) to begin transforming our 125′ waterfront, kindly provided to us by Schumann Properties. Rather than rebuilding our crumbling bulkhead, we’ll follow New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines for using salt tolerant native plantings to stabilize shorelines. We’ll also restore wetlands in the intertidal zone with spartina, mussels, oysters, and other indigenous life. Upland we’ll grow edibles in planters, including hardy kiwi and grape for shade. To maximize the service learning value of this project, we’ll invite college students to participate and follow the advice and directives of biologists Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan and Dr. Sarah Durand of LaGuardia Community College.
HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson will oversee safety stairs, platforms, the dock, and other improvements, aided by Mairo Notton and other skilled volunteers. Our space has been too crowded with bricks on pallets since occupation to do much work, but that’s scheduled to change over the next few weeks.
HarborLAB has also begun a campaign to create a bioswale and rain garden at the dead end of Vernon Boulevard. In some sense, this revives a decade-old effort that New Yorkers for Parks ushered into a design in 2006. With our launch site reworked and a green pocket park, Vernon Boulevard will end in a beautiful long stretch of green that improves Newtown Creek water quality by reducing combined sewage overflows.
The Newtown Creek Superfund designation, however, is based on carcinogenic sediments that line its bed and can sometimes rise through the water column when disturbed. Advocacy for dredging is our chief activity on that front. Our vital ally there is the Newtown Creek Alliance. We were happy that this Jane’s Walk included Newtown Creek Alliance Board Member Laura Risi Hofmann, a greenpoint health and green spaces activist, among its saunterers.
Because of the sometimes high sewage bacteria levels (common to all of western Queens’ waterfronts) and industrial pollutants (exceedingly high also in Anable Basin and Steinway Creek), HarborLAB has two blanket policies: 1) We bring boats to cleaner, safer waters in the region for children to enjoy. The Newtown Creek launch is for adults only. 2) We use canoes for venturing East of the Pulaski Bridge, and sit-on-top kayaks for paddling west, where water quality is much better.
HarborLAB boats and the raw 125′ shoreline, facing East to the Pulaski Bridge. Photo by Erik Baard.
The HarborLAB “boat ladder,” a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we’ll slope and stabilize with plantings.
Intertidal area that will be planted with spartina or other native species. Photo by Erik Baard.
Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.
HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.
Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.
Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂
The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.
Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.
ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.
Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.
HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!
Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Photo by Ana Espinal.
Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.
HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Photo by Ana Espinal.
Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.
A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.
Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.
HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.
Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.
“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.
CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.
The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.
Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!
Even a hose shower was a blessing.
Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.
At least half of us camped over on the island.
Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.
Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.