It was once labeled an open sewer, but the tide has turned for the section of the Bronx River which runs through its namesake borough. As NY1 celebrates its two decades of reporting on the Bronx borough beat, NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report on the rebirth of a long-polluted waterway.
Teens can now pull out mussels from the Bronx River. It's a very different scene from the 1990s, when cranes were pulling out cars from the depths of the city's only freshwater river.
"They had a certain part of the river that they called the 'car rapids' because it was a place where the cars that were dumped in the river were making little whitewater rapids," says Bronx River Alliance Executive Director Linda Cox.
An eight-mile stretch of the Bronx River was a river of refuse until community groups and public agencies stepped in and made it their river of dreams. Cleanup and restoration efforts ramped up in 1997.
"I remember the joke in Congress was, 'Is there sand, grass, or what on the side of the river?' And I said, 'Cement, but we’re going to change that,'" says Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano.
Since the late 1990s, the not-for-profit group the Bronx River Alliance estimates nearly 90 cars, more than 600 tons of garbage and nearly 30,000 tires, appliances, bicycles and furniture were cleared from the river.
After years of taking things out of the Bronx River, there is now an emphasis on putting things back in, from plant life to wildlife.
"We have beaver on this river. We have alewife herring coming back to this river. We have herons and egrets and ospreys that fly along this river now," says Cox.
Ten acres of new waterfront parkland are also part of the river's transformation, that now coexists with businesses, like a scrap metal yard, that line its banks.
It's a dramatic view of urban life and natural wonder for anyone taking a ride on the river, like the young participants in the youth development organization Rocking The Boat.
"The reason we are in the South Bronx working with young people from the poorest congressional district in the nation is because of the Bronx River," says Adam Green, Rocking The Boat's founder and executive director. "It’s this amazing environment that is a literal classroom for us."
The cleanup continues, but today the river's biggest problem is overflow of sewage and storm water runoff.
"It’s a work in progress to restore the Bronx River back to the way it’s naturally been, but if everybody does their part, then it gets there," says Hunts Point teen Brianna Hickson.