GOWANUS — The toxic Gowanus Canal was once where industrial waste, gangsters and dolphins went to die, but today it's practically Brooklyn's Seine, teeming with new life and activity.
As the federal government prepares to clean up the heavily polluted Superfund site, advocates for the canal's future are encouraging the public to explore the long-neglected waterway.
"It's not a wonder there's environmental blight when there are no eyes on a waterway. People being involved with the Gowanus Canal is only good," said John Lipscomb, a boat captain with Riverkeeper, referring to a June boat race on the canal.
"What it does is move the bar up, and the bar never goes back down. The more the public is involved the better it is for that waterway."
Here's how to spend your summer on the sometimes stinky and always fascinating Gowanus Canal.
► Spend date night on a sunset canoe tour with the Gowanus Dredgers canoe club. This nonprofit group runs a variety of activities along the canal and hosted the first-ever Gowanus Challenge boat race in June.
On Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. the public can take canoes on self-guided tours of the canal.
"The lighting is fabulous, the birds come in, the fish jump — it's a nice and relaxing thing to do with friends or coworkers after work," said Dredgers co-founder Owen Foote.
Canoes are available at the Dredger's boat launch at 164 Second St.
Foote suggests following a canoe ride date with dinner and drinks at Lavender Lake, the bar and restaurant at 383 Carroll St., steps from the canal. Foote's favorite dish is the homemade potato chips bar snack. The menu also includes heartier fare like sweet potato gnocchi, sasparilla-braised short ribs and red snapper (not from the canal).
► If two-wheeled travel is more your speed, you can take a self-guided bike tour with stops along the canal, designed by the Gowanus Dredgers.
Learn more about the businesses along the canal with a Made in Gowanus walking tour. Licensed tour guide Dom Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn tours, likes to show off the neighborhood's thriving artisans and manufacturing businesses on his three-hour tours.
► Do some good for the world with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy's Clean and Green volunteer events.
Many events are held at a Second Avenue lot where the Department of Sanitation houses a massive road salt pile every winter. During warmer weather the Conservancy operates a small nursery and composting facility there and guides volunteers in activities such as monitoring bee hives and building floating gardens and wildlife habitats.
One year, volunteers made a floating platform out of wooden planks. A heron landed on it and used it as a base for fishing, said the Conservancy's volunteer coordinator Rebecca Rogers-Hawson.
"It's a great way to spend your Saturday or Sunday outside with people who want to help out," Rogers-Hawson said.
► Embrace your handy side at Build It Green's do-it-yourself workshops at the Gowanus Industrial Arts Center, overlooking the canal at Ninth Street.
Build it Green sells salvaged building materials such as doors, flooring and cabinets. Its workshops are aimed at "environmentally conscious citizens who are searching for the skills needed to use old items in new ways," according to the group's website.
Topics include bookbinding, upholstery, mosaic and carpentry. In July, local environmentalist Adam Katzman will teach a class on how to harvest rainwater.
► On Sundays, shake your booty at the Mister Sunday outdoor dance party at Gowanus Grove, an al fresco space nestled on the canal's banks at 400 Carroll St. Tickets are $10 and dancers can quench their thirst with sangria or nibble on tacos from the award-winning vendor Country Boys.
This is likely the last summer for the popular party, because Gowanus Grove sits on land slated for a 700-unit housing development.