It is the largest lake in New York City, a historic salt marsh that was flooded when Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was fashioned from a former ash dump to host the 1939 World’s Fair.
But while years of effort and millions of dollars have gone toward cleaning up the city’s major waterways, like the Hudson and Bronx Rivers, city officials and parks advocates have paid less attention to Meadow Lake and the four dozen other lakes and ponds scattered across the parkland.
And it shows: At Meadow Lake, excessive algae can turn the water a sickly yellowish-green and the shore is lined with phragmites, an invasive reed. Its waters are compromised by runoff from the nearby Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway, spent coals from barbecues in the park and even goose droppings.
Now, in a possible model for other city lakes and ponds, the parks department is trying to restore the 70-acre lake to health, or at least mitigate some of the excess nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen that cause algae blooms and other problems.
Along the eastern bank, a recently completed project expanded the shoreline with native plants that naturally filter runoff, and a bioswale — a long channeled trench — was dug and landscaped to capture runoff before it reaches the lake.
A similar project is under construction on the opposite shore, where on a recent afternoon, mallard ducks swam in a new wetland area, planted with sedges and rushes, whose main purpose is to intercept stormwater runoff from a large parking lot and the Grand Central Parkway beyond.
Another lake in trouble is in Bowne Park, in Flushing, Queens. While it is not listed as having blue-green algae, the lake has become smothered by other kinds of algae in recent summers, and residents have complained.
This past summer, City Councilman Paul Vallone, whose district includes the 12-acre park, allocated $1.45 million toward improving the water quality in the lake, where two fountains provide some aeration. The Queens borough president, Melissa Katz, dedicated another $1 million toward the project.