When was the last time you saw someone wearing fishing waders? A really long time ago? For this reason it was a gas to see 15 adults clad in large water resistant pants and suspenders, thigh-high in mud, in a drained section of the Dog Beach at Prospect Park on Monday morning.
They were gathered to give an upgrade to the beach, which will receive new stone slabs, “reminiscent of stream beds found in the Adirondacks or Catskills,” and a new cable and mesh fence to more safely keep pups within a certain portion of the water. Invasive plants will also be removed and replaced by much prettier and healthier greens, as well as some boulders. Funding for the Dog Beach improvement came from the Borough President’s office, council members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, and the Brooklyn Delegation (adjacent ballfields will also benefit from this pool of cash).
The wader-wearers were removing dozens of dog toys from the bottom of the drained pond bed, and placing the fish that had swum there into buckets. Later, they would be added to the dammed off portion of the lake that was still filled with water. “These are all Prospect Park Alliance staff and volunteers,” said Grace McCreight, External Affairs Assistant to the Alliance.
McCreight was answering my very specific question: Who were these people wearing fishing waders, slipping deep into the mud, and chucking the water-logged toys into a pile near where we stood? Every now and then, a hairy tennis ball flew right by our faces, and and fell near a growing collection of squishy chewables. One excavator walked by us carrying a rubber ball covered with little round nubs. It was very dirty. “These are expensive!” She marveled. “My dog is going to love this.”
In a shaded area off to the side, a woman sat behind a folding table with a clipboard and pen. Next to her were several buckets filled with murky water, and, a lot of fish—Blue Gills and Large Mouth Bass to be specific. A young man was using a fish net to scoop out the recovered fish before grabbing them and placing them along a wooden ruler resting on the table.
“That’s a huge one!” Said the woman. “209 milimeters,” the young man responded. In addition to measuring the fish, they were also counting all of the aquatic life that had removed from the drained portion of the beach before the volunteers returned them to the lake.
“We have seen about 300 fish so far,” said the woman with the clipboard. For the most part, they were small (one of these tiny fellers sprung out of the net and landed on the grass near our feet, leaping with a force equivalent to a double bounce on a big trampoline), but a few were much larger, around 8 inches. “This is just to get the general health of the lake and fish population,” said McCreight. “It’s always good to know what the wildlife looks like.”
Monday, if you’ll recall, was unpleasantly warm, especially before the sky emptied everything it had onto the city for more than an hour. And yet, watching this coordinated effort to care for the wildlife at the Dog Beach, and improve its quality and beauty, still felt more special than physically uncomfortable: This is the kind of activity we don’t typically have access to—handling freshly plucked Blue Gills and slipping deep into muddy waters wearing fishing pants—when we choose to live in the city.
Just then, Vice President of Capital and Landscape Management with Prospect Park Alliance, Christian Zimmerman, emerged from the mud—and almost fell on his face. But her caught himself before that happened.
“They’re making some adjustments in the dam, so we’re goint to start again tomorrow morning,” he said. I wondered, had he and his staff ever done a job that looked anything like this—getting very dirty in a drained muddy pond—before? Actually, said Zimmerman, this was their sixth time doing something like it. Once, they had drained Lakeside, near LeFrak, during renovations there, and another time, they had emptied the Lullwater region by the Boathouse. That one, he said, had been most exciting.
“We put a 750 foot long, 40 inch wide pipe through the middle of the lake, sealed it, and made sure all the time water was going through it,” he explained. The park’s entire, continuous water system is “fed” by gravity, he explained, so the pipe gave the water, which otherwise would have filled the Lullwater bed, a place to go. “It was technical and successful,” he summarized.
“Let’s have a group hug!” Zimmerman joked, talking to the volunteers, all of whom were absolutely and equally covered in mud. This was dirty work, but it was nothing short of heroic. The fish were counted, measured, and safe, and, next spring, Brooklyn’s pups will be swimming there once again, well protected, and on a beach that looks better than ever, thanks to these efforts.
For more information on the Dog Beach restoration, click here.
All photos by Paul Martinka