Willow Lake and Meadow Lake

As we will point out in this section, the addition of transportation that surrounds the area is not the sole cause of the current environmental problems concerning both Willow and Meadow Lake. In fact, one of the key reasons for many of these problems is due to the fact that both lakes were man-made, instead of being natural bodies of water. This ultimate design choice has effects  on the rate of biodiversity in the area as well as species richness. Presently, however, with cooperation from the city, local organizations are planning to undo many of the existing problems with the park. For example, a great initiative has been put in place to remove the invasive species that has taken over  much of the area with new trees, plants and other shrubbery. We offer some of our recommendations for enhancement of Flushing Meadows Park later in the web page.

History

Both Willow Lake and Meadow Lake are man-made; neither of them are naturally formed lakes. Created around 1939 for the first World Fair from water flow from the Flushing River, the rivers were created for entirely different reasons. Meadow Lake was constructed originally for recreational use and to provide a compatible backdrop for the spectacular events of the World Fair. Willow Lake, on the other hand, was designed as a natural refuge. Being one of the last freshwater wetlands in New York City, on November 10, 1976 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation protected Willow Lake as a freshwater wetland. 1 It is mainly due to this fact that presently Meadow Lake is the only one of the lakes accessible to visitors of the park. Nevertheless, Willow Lake continues to be the home for an array of different forms of plants and different species of animals. Aptly titled Willow Lake, it is the home of a wide variety of willows. Examples of the different type of willow trees include:

the White Willow (Salix alba)

the Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

the Pussy WIllow (Salix discolor)

Furthermore, Willow Lake has been renovated in order to attract local and migratory birds with the addition of berry-bearing shrubs and trees. In fact, Willow Lake has come to be called “a bird watcher’s paradise.” Examples of the different types of birds include:

Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia)

White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Red-winged Blackbirds (Phasianus colchicus)

When Willow Lake was first created for the World’s Fair, its purpose was to delight the audience with magical water shows and spectaculars. It was set aside for recreational use. However, over time, due to the neglect and lack of government funds, Willow Lake became wet, swampy areas that people could no longer walk through and enjoy. Because of this, it also became closed off to the public, only personnel with authorized permission were able to visit. 2

The state of the lake continued to worsen until the mid 1990′s. Attention was bought up about the condition and plans were made to restore it to its former glory. In 1996, volunteers from John Bowne High School (in Queens, NY) and members of the Boys Scout united in hopes to make Willow Lake presentable, safe and open to the public. They created a nature trail, about a half-mile long, which would make it easier for people to walk along the edge of the water and enjoy the nature that the lake had to offer. 3

Environmental Problems Caused by Design

Structure of Lake

Diagram Demonstrating Difference in Structure between Twin Lakes in Flushing Meadows and Natural Occuring Lakes 4

Due to the fact that both Willow Lake and Meadow Lake were not created naturally, species richness and diversity has been effected substantially. “Habitat is enriched where different kinds of structures intersect,” 5 and because both lakes are generally uniform and smooth, biodiversity and ecological productivity are not expected to occur. In fact they are expected to occur “where the landscape rises or falls sharply, where creeks or streams enter or leave larger bodies of water, or where bedrock or sediment types change abruptly, providing different chemical, physical, and mass and energy flow conditions.” 5

Placement of Dams

Both Willow Lake and Meadow Lake suffer from water pollution that is caused by the way in which it was constructed, ironically. Before the lakes’ creation, Flushing Meadows was a tidal marsh drained twice a day by the natural action of the tides. The occurrences of these tides allowed the nutrient levels of the marsh to remain balanced. However, tidal action was eliminated when dams were put in place along Flushing Creek to create the lakes. 5 With this the lakes became “eutrophic” or super-saturated with algae in warm weather due to the unchecked release of phosphorus. The eutrophication of the lakes has had damaging effects on the environment surrounding the lakes. Not only does eutrophication cause “odors and pea-green water,” but it also responsible for the killing of many fish in the summer with the depletion of oxygen in the water. 5

Lack of Diversity in Species

Since Willow Lake and Meadow Lake were man-made, they were created with smooth edges and even depths. While this may initially appear to be ideal for the inhabitants of both the lakes, it is in fact not. Varied lake edge and bottom structures  are needed to
sustain a more diverse ecological system. This current structure of Willow Lake has led the invasive reed Phragmites to occupy the entire perimeter. Phragmites has infested the area since the 1980s. Phragmites is known to be aggressive and thus has eliminated the possibility of other species to exist. 9 It has been noted that an area like Willow Lake can support an estimated 300 to 400 species. Willow Lake also has a limited aquatic life as well. 9 While only six species of fish counted in the waters of the two lakes, the lake is capable of holding twice this number in species. 9

Phragmites 12

Low Quality Soil

When filling in the marsh, substantial levels of native seeds were not placed in the imported soils and landfill. It is because of this that there is a “relative sparseness of vegetation in many places.” 13 Grass and herbaceous plants cover and populate most of the edges surrounding both lakes, while trees and shrubs are at a minimum along the perimeter of both Meadow and Willow Lake. However, there is a presence of a few large willow trees and sweet gums, especially along the border of Willow Lake. In terms of vegetation, common reed Phragmites and other types of ragweed dominate the surrounding areas. “Ragweed dominance is indicative of a lack of competition from other plants and nutrient-poor soil.”  13 These types of “vegetated areas facilitate the dominance of the wind blown seeds of the non-native, invasive ragweed,” causing a continuance in the type of environment exists. 13

Invasive Species Covering and Killing Trees Adjacent to Willow Lake 16

Present Day

In cooperation with the city, about 14 acres around Willow Lake are at this time being cleared of the invasive species that inhabit the area in order to plant new trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. This reforesting initiative is expected to draw in more species of birds as well as butterflies and other critters. Many groups tried to clean up and re-open Willow Lake numerous times after it was locked off (due to a fire that destroyed the bridge that lead to Willow Lake), but each failed until Bram Gunther, the Deputy Chief of Forestry and Horticulture for the Parks Department, intervened. Due to the overgrowth surrounding the trail and lake, it was decided that the plants that will stay would be those that thrive and grow in wetlands. 17 Invasive species, such as phragmites, porcelain berries and mugworts were removed and new plants, especially hundreds of new trees will be planted. 17 The people working in the Parks Department hope that the trees will bring back the birds, who use the trees as shelter and its berries as food, which will bring back biodiversity and numerous of native species. 17 The planting of these news trees, shrubs and wildflowers is expected to occur early next year.

Footnotes:

  1. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 12
  2. “Seed Planted for Willow Lake Return,” Joseph Orovic
  3. “Seed Planted for Willow Lake Return.”  Joseph Orovic
  4. "Existing Conditions and Problems," Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 25″
  5. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 25
  6. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 25
  7. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 25
  8. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 25
  9. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 28
  10. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 28
  11. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 28
  12. "Existing Conditions and Problems," Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 28″
  13. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 26
  14. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 26
  15. “Existing Conditions and Problems,” Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 26
  16. "Existing Conditions and Problems," Ecological Engineering and Restoration Study Flushing Meadows Lake and Watershed: 26″
  17. “A New Vision: Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park ‘s Future is Greener , Cleaner and More User Friendly,” Brian M. Rafferty
  18. “A New Vision: Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park ‘s Future is Greener , Cleaner and More User Friendly,” Brian M. Rafferty
  19. “A New Vision: Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park ‘s Future is Greener , Cleaner and More User Friendly,” Brian M. Rafferty

1 Response to Willow Lake and Meadow Lake

  1. Jason Munshi-South says:

    This section has some excellent information. My only comment is that it also lacks transitional material to tie it to the previous and following sections. There are also a few misspellings (i.e. mugwart is actually mugwort).

    You could expand a bit on the invasive species issue to address what is happening at the site now.

    Jason

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