Gowanus Canal — yes, that one — now a fun venue for the summer of COVID-19

Floating toward the bay, the setting sun illuminates a rainbow oil sheen. I stick my paddle in it and it shimmers, then dissipates. A pair of strangers gently bob to my left, and our group’s leader talks about Dutch settlers and oysters before becoming momentarily distracted by a dead, bloated fish drifting by.

The Gowanus Canal is famously filthy, but my recent tour of it with the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club felt like an escapist fantasy: Maskless on the water, insulated from city sounds by the wall of industry that lines the canal, the water droplets occasionally splashing onto my bare legs were, momentarily, the only threat of disease I could fathom.

Since 1999, the Dredgers have been canoeing their polluted eponym and advocating for it to be properly cleaned. While most scheduled programming remains largely on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dredgers find themselves in the unique position of being able to continue offering pleasure cruises, their canoes primed for social distance — the seats are 7 feet apart — and the Gowanus so nasty New Yorkers avoid it like a plague worse than the current one.

“We’ve always had an inherent attitude of respect for contamination,” Dredgers co-founder and current board member Owen Foote told The Post, adding that the group has long been in the business of using hand sanitizer.

Through the end of their season in October — when the cold weather makes the waters dangerous — the Dredgers have a full roster of donation-based activities lined up for the Superfund site.


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