Scum of the Earth Dwells In Prospect Park

pplake Scum of the Earth Dwells In Prospect Park

Picturesque but murky waters. (www.bobguskind.com)

These days, Prospect Park’s shadowy groves are as likely to be littered with discarded toys as hypodermic needles. The Park has, much like Central Park, undergone a revitalization in the last few decades, bringing it closer to Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s vision of artificial nature.

But even the most diligent efforts cannot rid the park of one its most fearsome (albeit natural) adversaries: pond scum. The Wall Street Journal reports that fighting the scum is an ongoing battle. Certainly, one can skim the scum off, but like a many-headed hydra, the efforts of even the most diligent Parks Department employees cannot get beneath the surface of the problem. The Harlem Meer in Central Park is similarly plagued.

The green stuff, mostly duck weed and azolla is natural; its growth encouraged by the potassium-enriched tap water that New York City drinks. The thick slimy layer can be skimmed off, but never vanquished. That said, the gunk, if left unskimmed, sinks to the bottom of the pond and starts to rot, killing off the plants and creatures of the pond. The process, known as eutrophication, is common in bodies of water around the U.S., but in many other locations is caused by agricultural runoff. Also, it’s really unappealing to visitors.

Prospect Park even has an employee who devotes several hours a week to the task. The man, Martin Woess, rides astride a strange anti-scumming machine—dubbed the Lake Mess Monster—that “licks the scum into the belly of the boat,” as The Journal (rather excellently) describes it.

“The lake isn’t alive,” Mr. Woess told the Journal. “But it’s full of life and needs to breathe.”

Way to be gunk-ho!

kvelsey@observer.com