October 5, 2016
To see one of the newest parks in New York, I joined at least 15 other people on a tour of the Paerdegat Ecology Park in Carnasie, Brooklyn, on September 23rd. Paerdegat Ecology Park is one element of Paerdegat Basin Natural Area Park and Ecology Park. The natural area and ecology parks are a community benefit project resulting from improvements to the Paerdegat Basin Water Quality Facility. The upgraded combined sewer overflow (CSO) facility is designed to accept 50 million gallons of sewer and stormwater. Above this capacity, a combined flow of waste- and storm-water will be released into the Paerdegat Basin.
The walk began at the gate to the CSO facility and education center with an introduction to the city's 50 natural areas by Hunter Armstrong, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Natural Areas Conservancy. Our tour guide was John McLaughlin, Director of the Office of Ecological Services at NYCDEP. John is one of the project designers. The other is Mike Feller of NYC Parks.
As we headed east on Bergen towards the ecology park we passed the southern natural area park with its undulating cultural grasslands. The site was purposefully restored without trees to provide grassland bird habitat. During excavation for combined sewer tank, clean glacial till sand was discovered 10 feet below the fill on the site. The glacial sand was kept on site and used to create the grasslands and tidal salt marsh wetlands.
There are four components to the entire natural landscaping project. The natural area park is composed of the tidal wetland (4.5 acres), the northern upland natural area park (21 acres), and the southern upland natural area park (20 acres). The ecology park is 5 acres. The northern upland had "high quality" indigenous vegetation such as bayberry, holly, and pin, scarlet, and willow oaks so only spot removal of invasive species was undertaken followed by planting of native species.
The southern upland was a different scenario. Prior to the development of the natural area and ecology parks, the site was used for scrapping cars and dumping household and industrial waste. It was also naturally seeded with "low habitat value" species such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese knot wood, mugwort, etc. Complying with regulations, contaminated soils were removed and the landscape capped with two feet of the sand unearthed during construction of the water quality facility after which a "typical" coastland grassland was installed. Adjacent to this, the ecology park with different ecological types was planted from scratch.
The plant communities represented in the ecology park are Beech/Maple Forest, Shrub Swamp, Shallow Emergent Marsh, Coastinal Oak/Heath Woodland, Coastal Plain Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, Maritime Red Cedar Swamp, Coastal Oak/Holly Forest, Pitch Pine Oak Forest, Maritime Post Oak Forest, Hempstead Plains Grassland, Maritime Scrubland, Maritime Scrubland, Brackish Intertidal Swales, Salt Shrub, and Salt Marsh.
If you want to see the diversity of habitat that's possible at the confluence of major ecological regions, then you should visit Paerdegat Ecology Park. However, the ecology park has supervised public access, so you will need to be accompanied by someone with the key. Hopefully, John McLaughlin will lead additional tours. His observations and anecdotes were fascinating. Did you know that when the city's sanitary system was designed 125 years ago, the city was only 25% impervious? Now the city's footprint is 75% impervious cover. Another factoid is that 1.5 miles of wetland are needed to reduce a storm surge by 1 foot though the variation in surge attenuation by wetland length might be 1.3 to 3.8 miles. The variation in geography and storm conditions might make the impact of wetland extent negligible. John McLaughlin told the tour participants that we "need dunes!" A local resident on the walk noted that the neighborhood behind the dunes in the northern upland nature area did not flood as dramatically as unprotected neighborhoods during Hurricane Sandy.
Disclosure: The tour got off to a late start and I could not delay my ride back home so the information on plant communities presented above were sourced from the handout distributed during the tour.