Turnstile Tours is truly multimodal – with tours by foot, bus, and bicycle, we’re now hopping into canoes! On Saturday, June 15, our team will take to the murky, sheen-cloaked waters of Brooklyn’s beloved canal for the Gowanus Challenge canoe race. The event is put on by the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club to raise money for their public education and paddling programs. You can help support the Dredgers by sponsoring our team, the Turnstile Turtles. We’re aiming to raise $500 for the club, and any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated. To make a contribution, visit the donation page, and make sure to write “Turnstile Turtles” in the “Designation” section. Your donation will help the Dredgers continue to offer their education programs to local students, and to make their flotilla of canoes free for public use (see their schedule – free paddling times are usually Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons).
Twenty-one teams (and counting) will hit the canal at the Dredgers’ boat launch on 2nd St, east of Bond St, and the racing starts at 11am (though all times are subject to tides). Our crew will consist of myself and Rich Garr, who leads our photography tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This won’t be the first time I’ve paddled the Gowanus, and despite its reputation for spreading STDs and killing dolphins and whales, a little splash of water won’t kill you (just keep your mouth closed when paddling vigorously). And Rich is from Cleveland, so he really knows what a polluted waterway looks like. The Gowanus been an industrial canal for more than 150 years, its banks lined with factories, warehouses, tanneries, and scrap yards. These years of use and abuse have taken a toll on the waterway, filling the sediment along its bottom with dangerous contaminants. But as industry and the associated dumping have declined, surface water quality has improved. The canal was designated a Superfund site by the EPA is 2010, and a $500 million cleanup effort is underway. Groups like the Dredgers and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy have worked to raise the profile of the canal’s problems, and push for comprehensive cleanup and responsible development of the area. Today, the canal’s greatest challenge is not from chemical pollution, but the city’s inadequate stormwater management system. Some 200 storm drain pipes flow into the canal, bringing pollution and debris from the city’s streets with them. Worse, however, is that even a minor rainstorm can overload sewage treatment plants, which receive water from both storm drains and buildings; when they get overloaded with rainwater, they dump untreated sewage into waterways like the Gowanus in what are called Combined Sewer Overflow events (CSOs). As industrial uses give way to residential development, CSO mitigation will become all the more important, and the only way to really tackle the pollution in the canal. You can learn more about CSOs and how to reduce them on our Sustainability Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (the next bicycle tour will be Saturday, June 8, 3-5pm). Watch a video about the Gowanus Dredgers and the state of Brooklyn’s canal: Back to the Challenge – prizes will be awarded to the top finishers of the 2.5-mile course, which will run the length of the canal to the Erie Basin and back, as well as for best team name, best dressed, most money pledged, and most sponsors. Prizes will include packages of our tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and we will be handing out coupons for discounts on all of our tours at the event. For the bottom teams on the fundraising ladder, threats have been made that they will be forced into a paddleboard jousting competition beneath the Carroll Street Bridge. So save us from that terrible fate, and make a pledge to the Dredgers!
The race will be followed by an awards ceremony and banquet. We hope you will come out and support the paddlers, and get a closer look at this vitally important and troubled waterway. Turnstile Tours offers Sustainability Bicycle Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92 and the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Public bicycle tours are offered several times per month on select weekend days between March and October – our next tours will be on Saturday, June 8, 3-5pm, and Saturday, June 15, 12-2pm (see the full schedule and purchase tickets). The Sustainability Tour is also available as a private group tour by bus or bicycle year-round – please contact us for more information or to schedule a tour. All tours begin and end at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the yard’s past, present, and future, the Ted & Honey rooftop café, and a host of great special events and programs. This post was authored by Andrew Gustafson.