- Public transportation: J train to Cleveland Street station (ride in the first car if traveling from the east, or the last car if traveling from the west). Use the right hand stairway to exit the station. Turn left onto Cleveland Street, walk two blocks to Lower Highland Park entrance. Stay on the sidewalk that passes basketball and tennis courts. Follow the sidewalk as it turns left and uphill (handball courts are on the left). Walk up stairs on the right to Highland Boulevard. Cross Highland Boulevard and watch for the parking lot. The Reservoir is opposite the parking lot on Vermont Place.
- Car (westbound): Jackie Robinson Parkway to Cypress Avenue exit. Make a left onto Vermont Place (this can be tricky due to a lot of traffic, so be careful). Drive approximately ¼ mile and pull into the parking lot on the right; Ridgewood Reservoir is on the opposite side of Vermont Place. Alternatively, take Eastern Parkway and turn right on Bushwick Avenue. Drive ¼ mile and turn left on Highland Boulevard. Stay in the right lane to the traffic light at Vermont Place. Turn left onto Vermont Place and proceed to the parking lot on the left side of the street; Ridgewood Reservoir is on the opposite side of Vermont Place.
Ridgewood Reservoir, adjacent to Highland Park, may not be listed in field guides along with its more famous counterparts, but thanks to former New York City Comptroller William Thompson, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and many local supporters, people have become aware of this interesting yet under-appreciated parcel of land.
Built in 1858, the reservoir provided drinking water to Brooklyn residents but fell out of use as the Catskills became the city’s main water source. It was drained in 1989 and in the subsequent years, nature reclaimed these 50 acres with a coastal swamp forest of birch, maple and Sweet Gum.
Presumably for safety reasons owing to its significant downhill slope, the reservoir’s perimeter is fenced in but the stands of birch and other trees are easily visible. Stand along the path at Highland Boulevard and enjoy the magnificent view from atop the crest of the terminal moraine left behind as the glaciers retreated – keep your eyes open for red-tailed hawks! Even in cold temperatures, songbirds like White-throated Sparrows bound about in the understory along the trail as it winds around a National Cemetery and the Jackie Robinson Parkway. They are but one of the more than 140 bird species recorded on the property.
Like any urban green space, the Ridgewood Reservoir needs friends. ATVs and paint ball enthusiasts regularly vandalize the area, and in recent months, the city’s parks department announced plans to clear the area for ball fields. Hopefully, officials and citizens alike will follow the suggestions offered by Thompson and Kennedy and alter their view of this space, to appreciate what it once offered New Yorkers in the past and can offer us in the future.
- Brooklyn-Queens Greenway Guide by the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation, accessed on 1/2/09 at http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/facilities/images/Brooklyn_Queens_GreenwayGuide.pdf.
- Save Ridgewood Reservoir, accessed on 1/2/09 at http://ridgewoodreservoir.blogspot.com/.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Jessica Leber, Audubon, accessed on 1/2/2009 at http://www.audubonmagazine.org/webexclusives/ridgewoodreservoir-webexclusives.html.
- A Wilderness, Lost in the City by William C. Thompson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., New York Times, May 29, 2008, accessed on 1/2/09 at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/opinion/29kennedy.html?_r=1&th&emc=th.
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