Uptown Wetlands Slowly Recover From Hurricane Sandy

By Nigel Chiwaya on December 14, 2012 7:41am 

INWOOD — Six weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the area, cleanup has been slow in Manhattan's only remaining wetlands.

While the downed trees have been removed from Inwood's Sherman Creek and Swindler Cove Park — a natural habitat in the process of being restored — mounds of trash still remain along the shoreline.

New York Restoration Project, the non-profit that handles the development of the wetlands, has been working to get the area back in shape, organizers said.

"It was quite heartbreaking to see the damage and to see the parks being inaccessible to people," said Jason Smith, NYRP's campus director for Sherman Creek.

The site was closed to the public for two weeks in the aftermath of the storm while NYRP staff and volunteers took stock of what was destroyed.

Eight trees were toppled in Swindler Cove Park, which was three-quarters submerged. In addition, the storm surge knocked down wetland grasses, allowing mountains of trash to drift in from the Harlem River.

The fallen and damaged trees, many of which hung over nearby P.S. 5 and along a bike path, were the first to be removed. That work was a top priority, because many people were using the bike path to commute to work and public schools were set to reopen the week after the storm, Smith said.

The tree-removal effort was so massive that it required extra help from staff at P.S. 5, he added.

"Anyone that could safely operate a chainsaw and help with the recovery effort was put to work," he said.

But while the trees were removed, the shoreline continued to be a problem.

"There's usually a couple of bottles that make it in," said Edwards Santos, Swindler Cove's park manager. "But now that everything's been flattened, you've got a very large concentration of debris that washed in. Stuff that you normally wouldn't see."

The NYRP began cleaning up the trash on Monday, inviting volunteers from around the city to pick up debris along the shoreline.

One of the volunteers, Ross French, jumped at the chance to help clean up Sherman Creek.

"I love this park," said French, 66, who lives in Inwood, adding that it gave him a picture of New York before it was inhabited. "I feel kinda privileged to be helping out here."

Despite the damage caused by Sandy, Smith believes the city has a chance to learn from the storm.

"We can use this as a teaching tool," Smith said. "We can talk about what does it mean to build a resilient landscape in New York City."

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