Local elected officials and advocates hailed the decision, which was made earlier this month. The reservoir was also listed on the New York State Historic Register last December.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir is a majestic place that deserves to be listed on the National Historic Register as a cultural and ecological treasure to be discovered by generations to come,” said Matt Malina, executive director of the water education group NYC H2O. “In the course of bringing a new generation of New Yorkers to visit and experience the site, we realized that we had become stakeholders in advocating for its preservation.”
The 50-acre site, located in Highland Park, is run by the Parks Department. It was built in 1859 to supply the city of Brooklyn with water.
Eventually, the reservoir did not keep up with the needs of the growing borough, especially after Brooklyn consolidated with New York City in 1898. By the 1950s, new reservoirs in the Catskills became the main water source for the city.
By 1989, the Ridgewood Reservoir was mostly drained. Since then, it has become a “lush and dense forest” inside two of its three basins. A freshwater pond sits in the middle basin.
“The reservoir is a piece of living history that transcends generations of New Yorkers,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “What was once a feat of engineering is now home to a diverse array of flourishing wildlife.”
In the last decade, officials have attempted to develop recreational facilities, ballfields and access roads in the reservoir. Those plans were eventually scrapped due to community opposition.
At a Community Board 5 meeting last week, leaders of NYC H2O announced the news of the reservoir’s addition to the national register and detailed some of the programs it has hosted at the site in the last four years.
Since 2014, the group has provided 447 trips to eight different natural sites, including the Ridgewood Reservoir. Over that span, they have taken 12,000 students from 166 schools on field trips.
In its first year offering trips to students, they took 52 field trips, seven of which were at the reservoir. Last year, they had 174 trips, including 65 to Ridgewood Reservoir.
“They’re really hands on,” said Jonathan Turer, director of programs and operations. “We’re getting kids to interact one-on-one with nature.”
On the trips, the students discuss geography and learn about where New York City gets its water. They work on collaborative mini-engineering projects, such as building an aqueduct out of straws, cups and tape.
“We give them a sense of place and how where they are has a bearing on the big picture of these massive systems we’re talking about,” Turer said. “We really want the kids to be observing and start to appreciate some of the nature that’s right in their backyards.”
Turer added that the visits have a “problem-solving atmosphere.” Students are outdoors the entire time, and are engaged in different concepts about STEM.
In addition to its signature student trips, the group also provides programming for adults. They host bike tours, organize a public lecture series on sustainability, and lead kayaking events in the Catskills.
They also have a horseshoe crab discovery walk by the shores of Jamaica Bay, and organize beach cleanups.
“It’s really about fostering that sense of environmental stewardship within families, adults and students,” Turer said. “We think that’s really going to help protect our water ecology and improve future resilience.”
NYC H2O was an integral advocate for the reservoir’s designation on the state and federal registers. According to Turer, the organization is working with the Department of Transportation to install a pedestrian-activated crosswalk by the parking lot.
The group is also talking to the MTA about possibly creating a bus stop by the reservoir. Also on the state level, the group is advocating for the Department of Environmental Conservation to designate the reservoir as a wetland area, which would give it further protections from development.
Looking to the future, Turer said he wants the reservoir to eventually serve all 520,000 students from 760 schools throughout Brooklyn and Queens. To make that a reality, the reservoir could even have a nature center like the ones in Marine Park and Alley Pond Park.
“We have a view of enhanced programming at the reservoir,” Turer said. “A permanent space at the Ridgewood Reservoir would suit the educational needs of those communities really well.”