By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson
Lately we’ve developed a fascination with the legendary toxic waterways of New York City. Previously, we’ve traversed the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, both Superfund sites. On July 2, we decided to explore the mysterious Bronx River.
Unlike the other two, the Bronx River isn’t truly toxic. In fact, by all accounts, the river is surprisingly bucolic as it winds under a leafy canopy, a narrow green ribbon through the concrete and asphalt of the Bronx.
But it’s not particularly paddler-friendly. Photos from Bob Huszar’s pioneering trip show numerous weirs, dams, and waterfalls. Paddlers pose with car carcasses half-submerged in the river, and rafts of floating trash collect behind a skim boom. (This last feature was one we should have paid more heed to!)
Since then, the river has apparently been substantially smoothed and civilized. The Bronx River Alliance has worked hard to institutionalize kayaking and canoeing on the river, running regular trips and producing a very useful map and paddling guide to the “Bronx River Blueway”. But the guide still shows three portages, some “challenging”, and warns that the water “can be very shallow at times. Paddlers may need to disembark and pull boats for short distances.”
Most paddlers come down the river in old beaten-up plastic river kayaks or canoes. We were headed up the river in our tender sea kayaks—his a soft-skinned folding kayak, hers pampered carbon-kevlar. How far up the river would be make it through the obstacles? Not so far, as it turned out.