Category Archives: News

NBBC Supports Save the Boundary Waters

In 2014. NBBC welcomed Amy and Dave Freeman on their journey by canoe from Ely, Minnesota, to Washington, D.C., where they hoped to draw attention and federal protection to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is threatened by sulfide-ore copper mining. Two years later, the fight not over, Amy and Dave spent an entire year in the BWCA. Part of that year is captured in the short film Bear Witness:

The BWCA is still threatened by the sulfide-ore copper mining. Here’s the latest information from Save the Boundary Waters:

Recently, federal agencies in charge of managing and protecting this area denied two old mining leases next to the Wilderness and announced a two-year “time out” on mining activities in order to thoroughly study the watershed of the Boundary Waters and determine if this is the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining. This is a great first step as we work to establish permanent protection, but our work is not done. Please ask your family and friends to join you in signing our petition, thanking decision-makers for taking this first step, and urging them to enact permanent protection for the Boundary Waters: Here’s the link to take action.

We hope all NBBC members and all those who believe in preserving one of the last unpolluted spaces in the United States will tell the government that you care about saving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from pointless industrial degradation.

We at NBBC paddle all season in waters that are thoroughly imbricated in the country’s industrial legacy. We treasure those small measures of wilderness that break through this history of abuse: egrets in Dutch Kills, kingfishers in Bushwick Inlet, cormorants watching the ferries pass on the East River. All of these things let us see the city again, for the first time, in new ways, and rededicate us to NBBC’s mission: enabling and advocating for access to the waterways of New York for its residents. Stewardship and rehabilitation of those waterways is the natural outgrowth of this mission.

Egret in Dutch Kills, July 28, 2017

It seems natural then, to expand this mission to one of the few places left in the country that has not suffered this extraordinary abuse, where you can dip your canteen into the lake water for a drink and listen to the loons call in the autumn and the wolves howl in the winter. We hope everyone who sees this takes a moment to learn more about the Boundary Waters and then takes action.

Give the Gift of Belonging to NBBC

North Brooklyn Cheer Club

Memberships to the North Brooklyn Boat Club are the perfect way to tell the committed, caring, and adventurous people in your life that you get them! NBBC is a community-based, mission-driven organization dedicated to enabling and advocating for access to the waterways of New York City for city residents, especially in North Brooklyn and Long Island City. All of our events; member trips by canoe, kayak, and rowboat; and environmental-education activities are run by our member-volunteers and funded mainly by membership dues. So belonging gives more than access to a new way to see the city — it actively helps the club’s mission of access and stewardship for all New Yorkers.

And moreover, it’s super fun!

Monica & Heather's Holiday Snowy Paddle!! from Robert C. DiMaio on Vimeo.

The benefits of becoming a North Brooklyn Boat Club member are many:

  • More chances to paddle with trained NBBC trip leaders! (See our calendar and sign up for our newsletter)
  • Learning paddling, navigation, and safety skills to assist trip leaders and help get more people involved and on the water
  • The opportunity to complete our Official Paddler process, which permits use of club vessels and equipment outside of organized paddles
  • Access to our cabin at ACA Camp Lake Sebago on a beautiful lake in Harriman State Park. (NOTE: You must also join the ACA to use Camp Lake Sebago)
  • Attending the annual NBBC meeting
  • Involvement and investment in NBBC’s work to advocate and facilitate water access, human-powered boating, and environmental restoration of the waterways of North Brooklyn

The 2018 Membership dues are still just $40. That’s less than two weeks of a Metrocard because we want to include as many people as we can as NBBC members.

But how do you give such a wonderful gift?!

A very holiday URL

Just use our online membership form. Fill out as much information as you can on behalf of your giftees: name, address, DOB, contact number, especially. To heighten the holiday mystery of it all, you can use YOUR e-mail address so that your giftees won’t know a thing until you tell them. NBBC is also making a special holiday e-mail announcement to send to all new members who join between December 16 and January 1. And you can also print out a customized membership card and present that as an indication that you know the people in your life who are most committed to adventure, fun, advocacy, stewardship, and all the good things in life!

Life preservers

After all, the life we save may be our own!

Long Winter’s Night at the Boatyard

While the days are short and the water is cold, the boat club is not hibernating! For qualified kayak and canoe paddlers there are trips exploring the frozen reaches of the East River and Newtown Creek. A recent expedition involving our new trailer to Jamaica Bay got postponed because of high winds but more adventures are in the works. In the meantime, there is nautical knitting, a book club, chess, paddle carving and boat restoration! There’s a double-barreled wood-burning stove in the boatshed! Bring an armful of broken furniture and join us!

New York Times: Come On In, Paddlers…

Some people questioned the wisdom of establishing a boat club at a Superfund site. But such is the lure of water, even when sludge seems like a more fitting descriptor, that the North Brooklyn Boat Club emerged out of one of New York’s most-polluted estuaries, Newtown Creek.

Its docks sit just downstream from a sewage treatment plant and a recycling center. Its clubhouse is flanked by salvage yards and warehouses, not far from an area so contaminated by decades of oil spills that the soil resembles black mayonnaise. And, flashing a winking self-awareness, its logo features a rowboat in a stream gushing out of a sewer spout while a tin can and a dead rat drift alongside.

“There’s only so many times you can see a beautiful sunset or a nice little beach,” said Fung Lim, 52, a charter member who takes experienced and novice rowers out each week in a 28-foot skiff he helped build. “It’s more fun to poke around in a commercial waterway.”

Now in its second year, the boat club has more than 190 members paying the annual $40 membership fee, a testament that the best stretch of shoreline is your own. The resolute community of paddlers has embraced not just the opportunity for recreation but also a continuing crusade to clean up Newtown Creek, a commercial waterway that snakes between parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

“Once you realize you’re not going to die or get covered in toxic sludge,” Leif Percifield, 30, of Williamsburg, said after a row from Brooklyn to the Bronx, “it’s pretty relaxing.”

North Brooklyn Boat Club on the Newtown Creek

photo by Robert Stolarik

It was not long ago when New Yorkers kept a safe distance from the water, once so fouled by sewage and industrial waste that it was infamous for harboring cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. But in recent years, thanks to concerted rehabilitation efforts by environmental groups and government agencies, residents have taken to the waterways with a pent-up fervor.

They are paddle-boarding in the Hudson River, swimming in the Bronx River, canoeing in the Gowanus Canal. They are yanking up fish from Jamaica Bay, once declared a menace to public health, and having them for dinner. But perhaps the most unlikely site for recreation is Newtown Creek.

John Lipscomb, who has spent more than a decade conducting harbor surveys for Riverkeeper, an advocacy organization that has led the push to clean New York’s waterways, said tremendous progress had been made around New York City. Newtown Creek, Mr. Lipscomb said, is among the worst places left, especially the eastern parts, which do not have circulating waters from the East River to flush out pollutants.

When the North Brooklyn Boat Club first dipped its vessels in Newtown Creek last year, the members knew well the history of industrial waste and neglect that had lasted centuries.

Millions of gallons of petroleum — up to three times as much oil as the 11 million gallons spilled in the 1989 Alaskan disaster — has leaked underground in Greenpoint from refineries and storage sites over the decades. An unknown amount has seeped into the creek’s sediment and mixed with heavy metals, PCBs and other contaminants left behind by the factories that once lined the commercial port.

Even though new environmental standards have ended many of those dumping practices — and Exxon Mobil committed to a more thorough cleanup of its spills — all it takes is a heavy rain to overwhelm the wastewater collection and treatment system and send raw sewage and polluted storm water into the creek.

Every week Willis Elkins, a canoe instructor and flotsam expert, dips a bare hand into the murky edges of the creek for a water sampling program that tests for microbes of enterococcus, a bacteria found in human and animal waste.

“It’s important to be knowledgeable about the waters you’re paddling in,” he said.

Sometimes the water is too dirty. But when the water quality is fair, he takes out groups of paddlers to explore the tributaries, passing the silvery digester eggs atop the largest wastewater treatment plant in the city, to Maspeth Creek in Queens, where they might be surprised to see egrets and cormorants instead of two-headed fish.

Before he sets off, Mr. Elkins carefully reviews safety issues with an occasionally skittish audience. No one has fallen in on his watch, he said. But the club has an outdoor shower, a convenient accouterment for such situations.

Dewey Thompson remembers the days when he and other paddlers would climb through holes in fences and cross parking lots and trash-strewn shores to put boats in the water. That changed in 2011, when an eccentric landowner who appreciated the idea of renegade kayakers in need of a dock cleared the rusting cars and machines from his lot on Ash Street in Greenpoint and offered it for their use.

Volunteers pulled weeds and raked up shards of glass and metal debris from the long narrow lot that opens up under concrete abutments of the Pulaski Bridge. Today, the space is bedded with mulch and has 22 kayaks and 8 canoes, a neighborhood composting center and a woodworking shop. This fall, they will host classes on environmental issues with LaGuardia Community College in an educational space dubbed the “Ed Shed.” There is also a stage constructed on top of a shipping container for its “Rock the Pulaski” benefit concerts.

“This isn’t just a bunch of boat nerds doing knots,” Mr. Thompson said.

Plans are under way to relocate the club to a larger site on Newtown Creek, using a several-million-dollar grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new location is still being negotiated, but within the next two years the boat club plans to have a landing with storage for more than 100 boats, an environmental education center and a library dedicated to the history of the area. There are also discussions to include office space for Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance, nonprofit organizations working in the area.

But for many club members, the core attraction remains the chance to leave the city’s street grid to engage with the water. “There are 600 miles of shoreline in New York City and not a lot of access points,” Mr. Elkins said.

So on a recent morning Mr. Lim, a Singapore native with long graying hair pulled into a ponytail, prepared the flat-bottom rowboat for a day out.

The plan was to head up the East River to the South Bronx, or as far as everyone’s arms could carry them.

The river was bustling. An oil tanker heading south hummed past an elegant sailboat. Grumbling ferries shuttled passengers between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Pleasure craft eyed the rowers with a mix of awe and pity.

“Row, row!” some shouted.

The crew passed the decaying timber docks and lush green overgrowth on North Brother Island, where herons and cormorants have replaced the typhoid victims who were once quarantined there. They anchored near Baretto Point Park, where teenage boys somersaulted into the salty water from a rusty bulkhead. The rowers wet their toes and ankles as a gull homing in on a catch plunged in beak first.

When the current turned in their favor, the boat made its long return.

Back on land, the group unloaded and scrubbed the boat, then retreated to the folding chairs and benches circling a crackling fire. As the sun disappeared behind the Manhattan skyline, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building twinkled in full view of the dock.

The boaters cooled their blisters on bottles of Brooklyn Lager and traded stories with another set of sunburned paddlers grilling hot dogs.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to move my arms tomorrow,” one said.

A couple walking above on the Pulaski Bridge paused to make sense of the scene below. A bright blue tugboat chugged by, pushing a barge loaded with recycled plastics out to the East River.

An empty beer can, tossed from the window of a car crossing the bridge, tumbled into the black water below.

See original NY Times article by Emily Rueb with images by Robert Stolarik