The Newtown Creek Nature Walk, located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is a public esplanade that wraps the waterfront edge of the city’s largest wastewater resource recovery facility. Artist George Trakas was commissioned through the City’s Percent for Art Program to create a site-specific artwork as a part of the comprehensive upgrade of the wastewater facility in the late 1990s. The first phase was completed by DEP in 2007, and now the eagerly anticipated new expansion is open to the public.
Beyond providing much needed public open space, the Nature Walk delves deeply into the history of Greenpoint, Newtown Creek, and the centrality of water to all life on earth. The artist imbued these themes into the design of the public amenities, from the seating elements to the planting and even the trash receptacles.
The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is planted with native trees, shrubs and other flora, to revive a long-inaccessible industrial shoreline for public use as a waterfront promenade. The walk features a 170-foot-long “Vessel” passage to the waterfront evoking the angled timber construction of ships once built along the East River. The walk also features nine 12-inch-thick granite slab steps that ascend out of Newtown Creek, each with scientific names etched on them to trace the evolution of the Earth through geologic and biologic eras that include forms of life native to Newtown Creek and Greenpoint. While there, check out seven stone circles, etched at various angles with local, native place names used by the Lenape help visitors visualize the places they identify. Another noteworthy feature is a 1,400-pound granite table in the shape of a shipping bollard, the cylindrical posts used to secure ships in port. The table also features an etching of Newtown Creek’s original watershed.
On July 22, join the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s Alicia West and George Trakas on a virtual walking tour of the newly expanded Newtown Creek Nature Walk. Learn directly from Trakas about the inspiration and construction of the City’s largest Percent for Art commission. See the transformation of the Newtown Creek waterfront since the 1990s. Discover the details of the Nature Walk in preparation for your own in-person visit and attend a live Q&A with the artist following the virtual tour. The event is free for Untapped New York Insiders (and get your first month free with code JOINUS).
Newtown Creek Nature Walk Tour
Newtown Creek itself has quite a fascinating but troubling history. The three-and-a-half-mile-long estuary used to be one of the most heavily used — and most polluted — waterways in the country. The creek is the site of one of the largest oil spills in U.S history — the culmination of decades of oil leakage. The creek has been undergoing cleanup efforts after it received a Superfund from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.
Newtown Creek is also the site of numerous combined-sewage overflow sites (CSOs). There have been dozens of sites along the creek where sewage was and still is dumped whenever the rainwater system becomes overwhelmed during storms. One of the most notorious stenches that permeated the neighborhood in 1855 originated from the Peter Van Iderstine plant, which turned the entrails of butchered animals (including at least one ten-ton circus elephant) into animal feed, fertilizer, and glue. Recently, 216 small, tightly-wrapped, plastic bags containing a mystery substance were found floating together in the creek. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company also owned a site at Newtown Creek. To add insult to injury, on October 5th, 1950, an explosion rocked Greenpoint, ripping a 10-foot-wide hole out of the pavement at the junction of Manhattan Avenue and Huron. It sent concrete shrapnel flying, blew 25 manhole covers up to three stories high and shattered windows in over 500 buildings.
However, with restoration efforts well underway, the creek has had quite a few positives. Next door to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in a nondescript, 100-year-old industrial building is the art gallery Last Frontier. Founded in October 2015 by Norwegian artist Sol Kjøk, the art space and work studio serves as a combined work space and presentation arena for international artists across various disciplines. Jell-O was surprisingly started at a factory on Newtown Creek in 1845.
Despite the creek’s pollution, on December 23rd, 2015, Clean Water Advocate Christopher Swain swam the entire length of the creek, thus becoming the first person in history to do so. Kingsland Wildflowers, a little-known native wildflower rooftop garden located in Brooklyn along Newtown Creek, also recently opened to the public. The garden seeks to promote New York City’s wildlife and provide educational programming regarding sustainable conservation.
On July 22, join the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s Alicia West and George Trakas on a virtual walking tour of the newly expanded Newtown Creek Nature Walk. The event is free for Untapped New York Insiders (and get your first month free with code JOINUS).
Newtown Creek Nature Walk Tour
Next, check out 10 NYC Walking Trails to Try This Summer!