Gowanus Canal Conservancy

In my search to find volunteer opportunities (and possibly a job) I worked this past Sunday with a group of amazing people. The Gowanuc Canal Conservancy (GCC) is an organization which, for the past seven years, has been working to clean up the Gowanus Canal, add green space, and bring environmental information to the community in the form of speaker nights at local venues.  We met at the Salt Lot located at 2 Second St. in Brooklyn. This is where the GCC has its composting operation. Five of the workers were employees of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC). The volunteers were young people (a group of high school students) a couple of people, like me, new to the area with a smattering of regular GCC volunteers.

They greeted us with hot coffee, cider, and home-baked goodies. The goals for the day were to recycle Christmas trees into mulch, trim trees in the local area, and turn the  compost windrows. Using bikes w/trailers, SUV’s, pickup trucks and a dump truck we collected several hundred Christmas trees from the curbs of Brooklyn. I worked with the dump truck crew. We would walk a block and pile up all the trees found into one or two big piles. The dump truck would drive up and we would fill it up. Then we moved to the next block and repeated the process. Handing a Christmas up to the waiting hands of the guy in the truck is harder than it looks. Some of the trees were pretty dry, so I could almost toss the tree up and over the side, but a surprising number of trees were still in fairly good health and thus were still hydrated enough to be heavy.  All in all a really good work out.


This truck, on loan from Aborpolitan, made four trips during a three- hour period. We estimated that over 200 trees were collected by our crew. 

A little history of the Gowanus Canal: It is a superfund site. The Gowanus canal was built in the 1860’s as a piece of maritime infrastructure to support the industry of Brooklyn. The stagnant water of the canal was a dumping ground for all the heavy industry located along the canal. In order to alleviate the issue (and the smell) a flushing tunnel  was built to move the polluted water out of the canal. It is what we do in America. Move it down stream and it doesn’t exist. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s, due to the combined factors of the flushing pumps no longer functioning, industry shutting down, and few people living in the area, the canal became a noxious mess. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s residents began to demand a change.  In 2008 NYC conducted an environmental assessment of the canal. The flushing tunnel and pump are now in working order and the water in the canal is now refreshed 6 times daily. After reading the history of the canal I was struck by what a big job this tiny organization took on. Kudos to the GCC!

Mulch Fest 2013 was hard work but a lot of fun. Great conversation. Learned a lot. Had a lot of questions. Met interesting people that I never would have otherwise. Got to know the Park Slope/Gowanus area of Brooklyn a little bit……..  six square blocks of it anyway.

A big thank you to the GCC for the opportunity. Hope to see you all soon at another volunteer event. 

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