c. Elizabeth-Keegin-Colley

Explore Prospect Park’s Waterways

Take a free, self-guided audio tour of Prospect Park’s watercourse—a marvel of nature, history and eco-innovation. The tour is presented by Prospect Park Alliance, in partnership with artist Mary Mattingly and More Art, and powered by Gesso. The tour serves as an educational component of the ecoWEIR pilot program currently operating in Prospect Park, and is presented through funding from the Environmental Protection Fund Grant Program for Park Services, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. 

Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s landmark park, is a natural wonder but also a feat of engineering: home to the borough’s last remaining forest and only lake, the park’s watercourse is fed by the New York City water supply. The free, self-guided audio tour, narrated by Mary Mattingly and Jason Chan, provides a new perspective on the natural and human-made ecosystems found in Prospect Park, and its connection to New York City’s water supply. From the natural ponds, local springs, and streams that were here before the park, to the waterways designed by park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux that today are fed by watersheds as far as 125 miles north of the city, to the future health of these waterways through an innovative ecoWEIR that uses plants to filter water—the tour peels back layers of history, environmental stewardship, and human intervention that are hidden beneath the surface.

Background on the Project

Prospect Park’s watercourse is a beautiful collection of waterfalls, pools, streams and a 60-acre Lake, and is one of the shining achievements of Park designers Olmsted and Vaux’s design. In 2020, to improve the health of these waterways, which is fed by the New York City water supply, the Alliance launched the ecoWEIR pilot program. Phosphates in the water, which make it safe for us to drink, lead to excessive algae growth in the park. This algae growth limits resources for other plant life and wildlife, which is detrimental to the health of the park’s waterways. 

The ecoWEIR is an innovative natural filtration system, designed by Jennifer Cherrier, a Professor and Research Scientist at Brooklyn College-CUNY, and helps to remove nutrients from Prospect Park’s watercourse that cause toxic blue-green algae blooms in the summer months, which are dangerous when in contact with pets and humans. As part of the pilot, ecoWEIRs are installed at two locations in the park near Fallkill Falls, where the city water supply enters the watercourse.The plant-based filtration system and its results are being monitored over the course of multiple seasons to determine if the pilot study is a success.

The Alliance commissioned Mattingly and More Art to produce the audio tour in connection with Public Water, a public art project and installation by Mattingly that was on view at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park in 2021. The piece examined issues of water quality, access, privatization and infrastructure facing the NYC watershed, which provides more than a billion gallons of clean water daily to nine million state residents, and also feeds the park watercourse. The project included a water-filtering sculptural ecosystem, designed in connection with the launch of ecoWEIR.

The tour begins at the Grand Army Plaza entrance of the park and ends on Wellhouse Drive in the park, a total of 2.02 miles and 12 narrated stops. The route includes a steep set of stairs in the Ravine and passes over dirt/gravel and paved paths. There is an accessible restroom at the end of the tour located at the Wellhouse. 

This tour is made possible through funding from the Environmental Protection Fund Grant Program for Park Services, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Presenting Partners: