Sure, the recently-finalized Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus Canal is going to take $504 million and "eight to ten years" to complete (and counting... the government shutdown means no Superfunds released, so the work is already behind schedule), but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a little water-based recreation in the meantime! Thanks to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and Open House New York, dozens of otherwise toxin-averse folks took to the canal yesterday afternoon for a leisurely paddle up and down the city's most lovable body of horribly polluted water.
Canoeing the Gowanus Canal is not nearly as harrowing as it might sound. No, your boat won't dissolve upon contact, and you don't need any shots if you get splashed. Although the water may be an disconcerting shade of green and there is the occasional disgusting pocket of flotsam to contend with, the Gowanus Canal doesn't actively reek. At least, it doesn't reek on dry days: In addition to all of the terrible legacy pollution from Gowanus factories of yore, the 1.8-mile canal boasts an impressive 12 run-off pipes and spillover sites—the most on any other comparably-sized body of water in NYC is two—which means that, when it rains, everything that Brooklyn's sewer system can't handle goes right in here.
On a sunny day like yesterday, however, you couldn't ask for less reekness and prettier views in that post-industrial-landscape kind of way. Among the sight-seeing highlights: lots of great graffiti by the likes of KUMA, REVS, INKHEAD and DART; the legendary Batcave, with its plea to End Stop and Frisk; rusted hulls, unexpected patches of wildflowers, and strangely shaped silos and such.
There are also weird science-experiment-looking things anchored here and there, and more nooks and crannies than you can explore in one ride. Oh, and you can gaze upon the backside of the nearly-completed Gowanus Whole Foods. Plus it's really cool to paddle under the Canal's five unique bridges.
One of the goals of Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club is to remind everyone that, despite its murky past, the canal is a viable source of fun and pleasure for all New Yorkers, not just the ones who will be able to afford whatever luxury development gets built around here. Best of all, the Dredgers offer free, unguided canoe rides EVERY Saturday afternoon, not just on Open House NY weekend. Canoes are available on a walk-up, first-come first-served basis, launching at the end of 2nd Street between 1:00 and 5:00, unless it's raining. There are two more Saturdays left in the season, on October 19 and 26.