By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — A little-known feat of engineering hidden deep underground is about to get some big recognition.
City officials and landscape architects are working on a plan to mark the trail of the Old Croton Aqueduct, the city’s first source of fresh water, which begins in Westchester and snakes through the Bronx, down Amsterdam Avenue and into Central and Bryant Parks.
The parks were once the site of two Egyptian-style reservoirs where the Great Lawn and main public library branch now stand.
The city's 15-mile trial would be marked by signs explaining the history of the National Historical Landmark and its impact on spurring growth in the 19th century, parks officials said. Installation of the 13 signs would begin next fall.
"We hope to promote public knowledge of this 'wonder of the world,' as it was acclaimed when it first opened in the 1840s," Therese Braddick, deputy commissioner of capital projects at the Parks Department said in a statement.
"The Old Croton Aqueduct was the first system to bring potable water to New York City. Without clean drinking water, New York would not have become the preeminent city that it grew to be," Braddick added.
The Old Aqueduct hasn't earned landmark status like other Manhattan icons such as Times Square or the Brooklyn Bridge, but it has spawned a cult-like following of loyal fans.
"People are really into it. They’re really excited to talk about it. They raise money for it. They really have a passion for the Old Croton Aqueduct," said Robert Romagnoli, 57, a graphic designer and cartographer who lives in Little Italy and spent three years drawing two detailed maps of the trail.
Romagnoli said most Manhattanites are unaware of the engineering structure that's running below their feet and the crucial role it played in the city's development.
"It’s really an engineering marvel," he said.
Charlotte Fahn of the Westchester-based Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, said the project is intended to get people thinking about where their water comes from and the need to protect it, in addition to telling the aqueduct's story.
"It’s an inspiring as well as fascinating story. It is very inspirational," she said.
Midtown's Community Board 5 will weigh in on the designs for the trail signs at its Thursday meeting, and so far, the reactions are largely positive.
"They’re very tastefully designed," said Joseph Hagelmann, the chair of Community Board 5's Parks Committee.