NOT ONLY IS THE GOWANUS CANAL an unusual inner city waterway, it attracts some unusual fans and supporters. Though some European countries have cultivated canals as very practical transport arteries, not since the Erie Canal has New York City paid more attention to a man-made waterway. The Gowanus has again become a focal point because neighboring real estate just turned hot.
One of those unusual Gowanus boosters is LUDGER BALAN, who began educating the public about the canal 10 years ago after he spotted wildlife swimming in the murk. Since then, his not-for-profit Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy (UDEC) has worked to demystify the water surrounding the boroughs from its Gowanus/Red Hook South Brooklyn Harbor Marine Field Station and another base in the Bronx. With a few divers and many volunteers, the organization has instigated numerous underwater research and clean up projects in the Gowanus Canal.
“Like many other things in New York, [UDEC] was started from frustration,” Balan said. “We are surrounded by water but have little access to it. And there is little access because it is polluted. I wanted to do something to change that.”
Balan was raised in the Caribbean and has long held an affinity for diving. Before Gowanus, he lived in Tribeca, where he had a hard time convincing his neighbors to take interest in the local waterways.
Today, he is still surprised how little people know about the Gowanus. Some people, especially new area residents, seem to think the canal is a closed body of water, when in fact whatever lands in the canal will likely find its way into the greater bay and ocean. Shopping carts and car batteries, of course, stay put.
UDEC’s annual Flotilla Masquerade eco-cruise on June 7 will be a special outing. Participants and crew will dress in renaissance and period costumes (pirates, fairies, jesters) for a ride aboard the organization’s 32-foot canoe. An onboard educator will discuss with passengers the often-overlooked wildlife and tidal activity from Gowanus to the Lower Bay, around the Erie Basin to Red Hook’s Valentino Beach.
Once at the beach, everyone will disembark for the 15th Annual Red Hook Waterfront Arts Festival.
The family-oriented event will be a day of fun, featuring more than 200 local youth artists as they perform onstage and on screen in the fourth annual Red Hook Youth Film Festival. Enjoy free canoe and kayak rides, a petting zoo and an eclectic mix of grub from local restaurants.
Those who wish to ride the flotilla but don’t have a costume can borrow from UDEC; if you have your own, a life jacket must fit beneath it. UDEC thrives on volunteers; to help, inquire about internships or make a reservation call (718) 802-9874 or (347) 224-5828.
IN OTHER CANAL NEWS, from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Project Director Lauren Collins of Windsor Terrace and Executive Director Bob Zuckerman of Park Slope have organized the first major community festival for the area. “Gowanus Goes Green” will take place on June 1 along the banks of the Gowanus Canal and the historic Carroll Street Bridge.
“We wanted to create a family-friendly outdoors event that would advocate environmentally friendly policies, not just for the canal, but Brooklyn and New York City,” said Zuckerman.
The event will showcase an assortment of enviro-conscious products and services from Brooklyn businesses, great music, organic and natural food, educational workshops and kids activities, all free to the public. There is still room for a few last-minute exhibitors to claim booth space; those interested can contact Collins at The quirky Brooklyn act The DEFiBULATORs will headline.
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MARLENE HOCHMAN, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT of the Doll & Toy Museum of NY on Montague Street, is proud to announce the museum will mark its ninth year with a June 10 celebration. The gala, set at the Heights Public Library, will honor a major donor to the Toy Collection, Nancy Morgan, whose own collection has been growing since her childhood in the Heights. She has added to it through extensive foreign travels since 1950. Also to be honored is toy inventor Mary Ellroy, an inductee into the museum’s Toy Inventors Hall of Fame.
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THE CONVICTION OF 25-YEAR-OLD Brooklynite Barry Gitarts on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement made international news this week. According to court documents, Gitarts was a significant member of Internet music piracy group Apocalypse Production Crew (APC) between ’02 and ‘04, reported of the UK. His conviction comes on the heels 15 other criminal convictions for people with APC affiliations, in the biggest crackdown of its kind to date. Gitarts faces a fine of $250,000 and up to five years in jail. His sentencing is scheduled for August 8.

BROOKLYN RESIDENTS BELINDA FISCHER and KHRYSTAL DEMYERS will be honored as valedictorian and salutatorian of the 2008 graduating class Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) during the 43rd Commencement exercises on May 30. Fischer is proctor for students with disabilities and currently volunteers at the Housing Works Used Book Café, which ministers to the needs of the homeless and those with HIV/AIDS. She is a member of the United Nations Association of the U.S., and she hopes to one day use her linguistic abilities at the U.N. Canadian-born Demyers has served as a senator for BMCC student government, chairperson of the House of Clubs and president of the Fashion Media Arts Club.