The Ignorant Traveler   


Drinking-Water Kayaking

By Rich Sheppard

Jersey City, 8/22/06 - For the past two decades, nearly, the fate of the #3 reservoir in the Jersey City Heights has been in the balance; undecided. When city officials resolved, I seem to recall in the early to mid-eighties, that both the #2 reservoir on the west side of Summit Avenue, and the # 3 reservoir on the east side were no longer needed to supply drinking water to JC residents, the initial plan was to drain them and build thereon. The western, #2 reservoir, a depression contained within manmade dikes or ramparts, was drained pretty quickly, and has since sprouted a large firehouse and the St. Joseph School for the Blind. Both noble public uses - plus there's additional buildings planned/completed. There's also a large enclosed domed structure which contains a mere fraction of the water stored previously.

But for reservoir # 3, contained as it is inside the stone walls which are familiar to all Jersey City residents as containing the reservoir and Pershing Field just north, the debate rages on. Initially it was drained, and there was talk of creating assorted ball fields and other recreational facilities. There was also talk of building a high-school or middle- school. But over time, as administrations came and went, the reservoir refilled, it being designed to accumulate water and doing so. During this indecisive period, a large breach was knocked through a portion of the south wall, presumably to allow construction, and the water occasionally got high enough to threaten to come through that breach at street level.

Dinckie in the Drinking Water

But about a year or so ago, the reservoir was once again drained in anticipation of putting this enclosed area to some use. I don't think it's possible to fully "drain" all of the water. Any construction would require extensive "fill" to replace the last bit of water that couldn't be pumped out. Activists who want to keep the reservoir as a body of water and in as near natural state as possible raised alarm. They were concerned that the comparatively unannounced draining presaged some chicanery by city officials to either build something within the walls, or once again create a space exclusively with ball fields. The activists wanted to maintain some - if not most - water as a nature preserve. This is where matters presently stand. The walls, it should be noted, have state historical designations, so no matter what gets decided within, they will remain. At least until the state legislature might vote to rescind that designation.

Nonetheless, as part of my "Watercraft 2006"-type summer, word that there would be kayaking inside the wall of the rez came as welcome and actionable news. It turns out that the same civic-minded folks who run the free Hoboken kayaking events through the summer (including the one wherein I was able to kayak across the Hudson a few weeks back) wanted to offer free kayaking in the rez. The Reservoir Preservation group, along with the Hoboken people, convinced city officials to fund a truck rental and brought some kayaks from the same NYC boathouse Hoboken uses into Jersey City. All told, they brought over about 8-9 single and double kayaks, and used the Jefferson Street (south) end of the rez as a put-in. 

More Dinckie in the Drinking Water

I was able to convince my pals, veteran Delaware kayaker Chuckie I "Tuna" Turner, and Polish Navy (Delaware Division) Commodore Zachow to join me in both kayaking the rez and hiking the tops of the surrounding walls (only the Commodore joined me for this). The rez has some mechanical/plumbing works inside, you have to be a little conscious of this, and there are parts of the rez that were too shallow even for the low-draft kayaks to navigate. But it was a different perspective to sit in the middle of the rez in a kayak, to paddle up to the old valve house and the other structure on the eastern side, and consider the massive pipe works and other rez mechanicals. There's even an island in the middle of the rez, a sure-fire anchor to keep the entire rez as a "natural" park/lake only.

Chunk Tuna, Stealth Kayak

There were quite a few people out and about, enjoying the access to the unique recreational opportunity. Boating, hiking, and fishing. This would only bode well for the argument that the rez should be "park" only as opposed to ball fields or "park and ball fields." My own selfish inclination is to spiff it up as-is, and to keep it as an open body of water, that offers as much civic enjoyment as playing fields. As of now, it's still an open question, and autumn beckons, but perhaps by spring, there will be some clarity. As usual, I sign-off as your kindly King, King Kayak-Canoo.
en border.