Photo: Mark D. Phillips

Photo: Mark D. Phillips

Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn N.Y.

Each time he crossed the Gowanus Canal, Frank Minna, the small-time wise guy in the novel Motherless Brooklyn, quipped that it’s “the only body of water in the world that is 90 percent guns.” In Lavender Lake, a documentary about the famously filthy 1.8-mile long canal in south Brooklyn, a local describes a body floating to the surface tied to a chair. Later, two cops tell of a fisherman who snagged a suitcase stuffed with body parts that weren’t even from the same body.

Colorful in lore and, more so, in hue. The water of the Gowanus has been likened to "black mayonnaise," upon which a curious white goo sometimes floats. Other days it appears a phosphorescent green. This October, the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy forced the Gowanus over its concrete banks, spreading debris throughout the gentrified neighborhoods that surround it. The locals evacuated in droves.

A paddler’s nightmare, huh? Fuhgeddaboutdit. The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, a non-profit organization intent or revitalizing the canal (, logs as many as 1,000 canoe and kayak trips each year. Launch from the put-in at 2nd Street, you’ll cruise past dilapidated bulk heads, factories riddled with graffiti and more scrap metal than on the set of Repro Man. Before you can say "Henry Hudson was here," you’re out into the expanse of New York Harbor—a short paddle from the Statue of Liberty, the most famous piece of rusting copper the city has to offer. –Joe Glickman

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