Village Community Boathouse

I spent the Labor Day weekend at the Village Community Boathouse, located on Pier 40 at the diving end of West Houston Street in Lower Manhattan.  That’s where dozens of volunteers build and maintain a variety of small, man-powered boats, including a half-dozen Whitehall Gigs.  These 7-person rowboats — native and perfectly-suited to New York Harbor — are used in a free community rowing program that promotes public ownership of the city’s waterways and carries on New York’s tradition of “maritime hospitality and fellowship.”  It’s a lot of fun, a good workout and a great way to tour the river.

Gull Under Glass

Earlier this year, Brooklyn artist George Boorujy began putting renderings of ocean birds in bottles and setting them adrift on New York’s waterways in an effort to connect with other New Yorkers and gather information on their interactions with the ocean and local marine life. He recently launched one of his bottles from the deck of The Frying Pan, a lightship docked on the Hudson River, as part of an exhibition New York’s P.P.O.W. Gallery held in collaboration with Underwater New York. Check back in the days ahead to track the bottle’s progress, or visit NY Pelagic.

Making Waves

Mayor Bloomberg rolled out his $3 billion dollar blueprint for New York City’s waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge Park this week. Vision 2020 is a sweeping plan to connect New Yorkers to the city’s rivers and beaches by developing facilities for transportation and recreation. It will also promote maritime industry through major renovation and construction projects and attract investors to the waterfront by simplifying complex development regulations. One hundred and thirty projects will be launched over the next three years as part of the plan’s Action Agenda. Manhattan’s Hudson River shore is slated for the following capital improvements:

  • Rehabilitation of the dormant Dyckman Street Marina to include recreation, comfort stations and a restaurant.
  • Completion of the Dyckman Ramp, Lighthouse Link and Battery Bikeway of the Hudson Greenway.
  • Reconstruction of the pedestrian bridge at West 181st Street.
  • Construction of a kayak launch on the sand beach at 170th Street.
  • Activation of West Harlem Piers Park as a boat and ferry launch.
  • Restoration of the 79th Street rotunda and fountain court.
  • Rehabilitation of the derelict 69th Street Transfer Bridge as a public pier.
  • Reconstruction of Pier 97 at 57th Street.
  • Reconstruction of the bulkhead between 39th and 43rd Streets
  • Development of a multi-use pier including a public market, art gallery and rooftop park at Pier 57.
  • Completion of the esplanade between Laight and North Moore Streets at Piers 25 & 26.
  • Funding will come from a mix of public and private sources. The city will issue RFPs (Requests for Proposals) for more than twenty waterfront development projects totaling $150 million with an eye toward leveraging private investment to support the construction and maintenance of public waterfront space.

    Council Speaker Christine Quinn, credited with shepherding the plan through to completion, emphasized the 13,000 maritime construction jobs and 3,400 permanent maritime industrial jobs the plan will create, along with the $1.6 million in revenue it will generate annually. She also noted the fuel efficiency of transporting cargo by water, citing a recent study showing that barges are six times more efficient than trucks on a per-ton basis.

    Industrial projects planned for the next three years include the renovation of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal and improvement of rail-to-barge access points at the Rail Yard in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

    On the green front, the plan allocates $50 million to waterfront restoration projects such as the Bronx River Greenway and more than a billion in upgrades at six wastewater treatment plants.

    All projects will be subject to new city guidelines for planning, design, construction and maintenance developed and overseen by City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, known for her exacting standards for developers.

    View a new citywide map of publicly accessible waterfront spaces here.

    Hudson River Winter

    The Hudson froze over last week. The river ice didn’t last for more than 24 hours, but during that time, it completely transformed everything around it.

    Postscript: A number of people expressed concern for the cat huddled on the river bank in the above video. Our paths crossed again recently and with the worst of the winter behind her–I understand calico coats are exclusive to females– she seemed content to continue watching the river from her perch.

    Score: “Testing the Jammer” by Freescha

    Captain Kid

    In 2008 Bill Bahen founded Hudson River Community Sailing, New York City’s first nonprofit community sailing center. This year Bahen and his crew put nearly 5,000 New Yorkers on the water.

    “The idea of creating access to the waterways in urban centers is not unique,” says the easygoing Baltimore native, citing Boston’s 80-year-old Community Boating, Inc. as one example among many in America’s major port cities. “But I think that Manhattan failed to engage young people on the water using sailing as a medium.”

    The reasons for this range from a historic lack of recreational infrastructure along the river to the long-held belief that the city’s waterways were little more than commercial cesspools. Improved water quality and the subsequent reinvention of the Hudson River waterfront as a public green space have since widened New Yorkers’ perceptions of the river as a valuable resource and set the stage for organizations like HRCS to redefine it’s significance in people’s lives.

    “NYC is probably one of the best port towns in the world,” says Bahen. “The idea that these young people don’t know that they’re on an island and they don’t understand that there’s the East River and the Hudson River and the Harlem River and those make up the hard borders of Manhattan, that’s just amazing to me.”

    By creating access to sailing Bahen hopes to change the perception of sailing as a sport reserved for affluent New Yorkers and to use it as a means of creating opportunities for the city’s young people.

    “If they learn how to sail here and we get them a job at some summer camp or some other community sailing program or some yacht club someplace, those could be game-changers.”

    My story about HRCS ran in the May 2011 issue of Sailing Magazine.

    The Wild Parakeets of Riverside Park

    “They started building the nest around the end of November. A pair came over here. It was wonderful,” said Milton, one of several local anglers who fished near a Monk parakeet nest that hung like a massive lantern from the branch of an oak tree in Riverside Park until last week, when stunned passers-by found the refrigerator-sized nest gone.

    Monk or “Quaker” parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), which are native to Argentina, have been colonizing the Northeast for the last four decades. In New York, they are like a South American gang that has managed to carve out a niche for itself in every borough except for Manhattan. Several years ago, a colony that briefly set up shop in Central Park was driven out because it was thought to pose a threat to migrating birds. In other parts of the city, Monks have been persecuted for nesting on utility poles, obstructing line maintenance and causing power outages. The Riverside colony, which consisted of 8-20 individuals, appeared to have been the first to evade notice long enough to gain a foothold on the island. The colorful birds began to draw attention this summer as they went about the business of feeding, breeding and noisily nesting above a busy Greenway path near 155th Street.

    Christopher Lyons, a local birder and blogger, was puzzled by the nest location.

    “You wouldn’t think a bird would choose to live here. It’s kind of a public area. There’s bike traffic. There’s pedestrian traffic. There’s automobile traffic.”

    The cause of the nest disappearance is unclear. One account casts a pair of stick-wielding boys as culprits. Another blames a crew of poachers equipped with lassos and ladders. Lyons allows that the nest could have fallen under it’s own weight. Most agree that it came down at night and the bulk of the debris was carted away by park maintenance staff.

    “Even eagle nests (at least those in trees) will eventually topple of their own weight,” Lyons wrote in an e-mail message about the fallen nest. “It’s impossible to rule out vandalism of some kind, but I’ve been wondering for a while now how long that branch would hold.”

    In a sense, this is only the latest chapter in a long immigration saga.

    Steve Baldwin, a natural storyteller with a broadcaster’s baritone, is the Metro area’s ambassador to wild Monk parakeets. In addition to maintaining brooklynparrots.com, he leads frequent tours to Monk nesting sites. Baldwin believes Monk parakeets were originally brought to the area to supply the pet trade in the 1960’s. The birds’ pattern of distribution in New York indicates that they were part of a large shipment that escaped from Kennedy Airport.

    “Way back in 1967 or ‘68 there was this huge shipment (of Monk parakeets from Argentina) that was coming through Kennedy Airport. You know that movie Goodfellas? It’s about the mob running things in Brooklyn and New York and they controlled the airport so anything that came through the airport they would sort of open up (and check to see if there was anything of value inside). It’s speculated that this big crate showed up and they opened it up and Boom! the parrots flew out.”

    *****

    “(Monk nests) are basically like condominiums,” says Baldwin in the shadow of a large mass of twigs heaped on top of a stadium light pole on the campus of Brooklyn College. “There’s several holes in each nest and each one leads to a multi-chambered ‘apartment’ and inside there are multiple rooms. They call it the living room and it’s sort of like the main area where the birds live. And then there’s a little side room called the bedroom where the hens lay the eggs.”

    Baldwin is speaking to a group of about twenty people who have gathered near the locally-renowned Brooklyn College nesting colony to take part in one of his wild Monk parakeet safaris. While the Monks are basically unfussy feeders who will eat anything from weed to weevil, Baldwin encourages the urban birders who take part in his free tours to bring along some good-quality bird seed. In return for these offerings, participants get to view the birds at close range and get a crash course in Monk parakeet ecology peppered with fascinating facts like the Monks’ habit of mating for life, co-rearing their young, and branching off into smaller colonies once large communities like the one at Brooklyn College have reached critical mass. Baldwin tends to keep the locations of new splinter colonies under his hat.

    “I try to avoid telling too much about (the location of) these birds,” he says. “Back in 2006 I started getting reports that there was a small group of men on bicycles who were going through Brooklyn in the middle of the night. They would scare the birds out of the nests and capture (them) and my sources tell me that they would then sell these parrots to pet stores to use as breeders…disclosing the precise geographical coordinates of a particular nest is something that I don’t like to do anymore. It wouldn’t take much effort to decimate the population of parrots where they’re living in exposed locations.”

    Whatever happened to the wild Monk parakeets of Riverside Park, a few of the birds remain in the area and there is still time for the them to build a new nest before winter. The precariously slung 155th Street parakeet co-op had reached two storeys and was tempting gravity even before it attracted human interest. The optimistic view is that it’s better that it came down in mid-August than in a mid-January snow storm. The Monks’ remarkable resilience and determination to keep on living in New York City despite obstacles ranging from blizzards to wilding boys is a true reflection of what it takes to make it here. Their industriousness, vivacity and charm have drawn legions of admirers to the park throughout the summer and with enough good will, a few well-placed feeding stations and a bit of luck, perhaps the Monks will rally and return to Riverside Park.

    Meanwhile, wild parrot watchers eagerly await the passage of legislation currently before the New York State Senate to protect Monk parakeets from poaching and unnecessary nest takedowns.

    POSTSCRIPT: As of January 11, 2011, wild Monk parakeet colonies have been protected by law in New York per  A1718-2011.

    Happily, Riverside Park’s monk parrots survived both the destruction of their nest and the subsequent fire at Harlem’s Northriver sewage treatment plant. They’ve relocated and at last sighting there was a healthy group of them in the trees near Washington Heights. 10/15/2011

     

    Ana- Latin Remix by Alexo MirAttribution Noncommercial Creative Commons License