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McCarren Park Gets $930,000 to Fight 'Hipster Lake' Puddles

By Meredith Hoffman | January 23, 2012 10:47am
After Hurricane Irene a child tried to traverse McCarren Park.
After Hurricane Irene a child tried to traverse McCarren Park.
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WILLIAMSBURG — When it rains, April Hartstein and her softball team, the Yetis, have to trudge past McCarren Park's notoriously giant puddle to get to the dugout.

They call it "Hipster Lake."

"It's a nuisance, but it's also become a part of the landscape," Harstein said of the infamous flooding in a section of the park between Bedford and Driggs avenues. "People ride their bikes through it, kids are dying to play in it and the parents are like, 'Don't go in there!' because it's so dirty."

Now officials are investing in a solution. City Councilman Stephen Levin has allocated $930,000 for developers to rebuild paths and add drains throughout the center of the park, including the area of the flood zone.

News of the work came as a relief to people who use the park.

"The water stands here more often than not," said Lars Hjelmquist, as his pomeranian Okie sat vomiting after slurping up a fetid puddle Friday. After hearing the price of the renovations, Hjelmquist gasped, then said, "It's necessary."

Melissa Bixson said she avoids flood-prone sections of the park with her 8-month-old puppy. But the feisty pets she walks as a volunteer for Bark Shelter have yanked her into the water.

"I had a pitbull that lay down and bathed in it," she said.

Matt Yoka, who traverses McCarren each morning to get to work, bemoaned the path that flooded the first day of his new commute.

"I was like, 'OK, I can do this,'" he said. "But then I got to treading through the puddles all the way to work. It rained on my parade."

After intense downpours, a park worker spends up to a day sucking up water with an electric pump, said Stephanie Thayer of the Open Space Alliance, a non-profit that partners with the city to improve North Brooklyn parks. 

Two years ago, Thayer said, OSA spent a few thousand dollars to have plumbers clear the drains in the park, but they soon clogged again.

"Not so much as a gurgle is going down those drains," said Meredith Chesney, who works at a salon near the park.

Brian Walsh, who made a documentary about North Williamsburg's former Bushwick Creek, said McCarren Park's flooding could be linked to its history as marshland. Bushwick Creek ran across McCarren Park until the early 1900's, when it became jammed with junk.

"People used to boat over the marsh," he said. "But over time, people threw all their trash into Bushwick Creek and it dried up."

Then the city filled in the land completely.

Walsh and another local resident, Michael Freedman-Schnapp, both speculate that water still exists beneath the park, which might contribute to the land's proclivity for flooding. As far as they know, no study of the flooding has ever been done.

"We don't know a lot of what the sub-surface conditions are in the park," said Freedman-Schnapp. "Getting a grip here would be useful."

The flooding often extends beyond the park, to neighboring street corners, local business owners say.

"It's surreal how deep it gets," said Luis Illades, owner of Urban Rustic on North 12th Street and Union Avenue outside the park. "People will be trying to walk and fall shin-deep into a puddle."