In the Bronx, finding nature along a hidden, polluted waterway – Curbed NY

The awesome Nathan Kensinger over at Curbed has published a beautiful photo essay of a very overlooked part of the Bronx River topography and ecology: Westchester Creek.

If you’ve ever paddled or canoed down The Bronx River towards its mouth or Rocking The Boat, then you know where it is. Not only are the waters deeper and murkier, but it is noticeably dirtier and poluted as the Cross Bronx and Bruckner Expressways bisect it and with it, a toxic brew of pretty much anything that leaks out from cars and trucks dripping down into the delicate river.

Nathan writes:

Cut off by highways, lined with barbed wire and filled with sunken barges, much of Westchester Creek had been made invisible. But the lure of the water was powerful, and fishermen had found their way in, peeling back fences, clambering down steep embankments and up handmade ladders, pushing through the tall marsh grasses. At the edge of its shore, they perched on precarious rubble and abandoned boats, savoring their small islands of solitude, surrounded by an industrialized landscape of rumbling trucks and dusty lots.

Even the most bastardized waterways in New York City have beauty hidden along their lengths, and Westchester Creek is no exception. Once described as “the Bronx’s version of the Gowanus Canal,” its forgotten shoreline has been heavily polluted by decades of raw sewage, gasoline leaks and illegal dumping, and most of its original course has been filled in or rerouted, concealed behind warehouses, fuel oil depots, tow yards, and parking lots. Down its dead end streets, however, a fringe of vibrant green marshland has taken root, and several upcoming infrastructure projects may soon help bring its neglected waters back to health.

The current path of Westchester Creek runs about two miles into the Bronx, as the tidal inlet flows from the East River between Clason Point and Ferry Point to its truncated end near Westchester Square. “It used to go much further inland, but a lot of the creek was filled in,” a tugboat captain stationed along its length observed. “It has a long history, going back more than 300 years.” Originally settled by the Siwanoy tribe and then colonized by the Dutch and English in the 1600’s, one of the early skirmishes of the Revolutionary War, The Battle of Westchester Creek, was fought along its banks in 1776.

In the ensuing centuries, the creek was mainly used for shipping, industry, and bootlegging, and eventually was reshaped to make way for the Hutchinson River Parkway, neighborhood development, and several industrial zones. Landfills, communal dumps, and empty lots have lined its length for decades, including along Pugsley Creek, a small spur off of its western bank where a large public park remains mostly undeveloped and closed off to the public due to pollution. “This has been a dump for years. I can’t imagine what’s buried in there—cars, trash, boats,” said one local resident who was walking his dogs along the shore of Pugsley Creek. “If they ever cleaned it up, who knows what they would pull out. From a distance, it looks real nice. But I wouldn’t eat anything out of it.”

Head over to Curbed and check out the entire article and photoessay: In the Bronx, finding nature along a hidden, polluted waterway – Curbed NY

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.