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Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Freshwater Wetlands in New York City - Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

New York City once contained 224,000 acres of freshwater wetland. This valuable ecosystem can slow erosion, prevent flooding by retaining storm waters, filter and decompose pollutants, and slow global warming by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen at a prodigious rate. In the past 200 years, the increasing demands of a growing metropolis have resulted in most of this land being filled for construction. Only 2,000 acres of freshwater wetland remain in the city today, and many species that once called the wetland home have been lost forever.

Built in Flushing Creek's plain, the site for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was originally marshland before it was converted into a landfill. Today, the park has grown into the second largest in the city, behind only Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Flowing from a source near Union Turnpike, Flushing Creek feeds Willow Lake and then Meadow Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the city. Meadow Lake in turn flows into Flushing Bay.

The formation of wetlands can be traced back to the most recent ice age. A massive ice sheet called the Wisconsin Glacier advanced on New York City 75,000 years ago, pushing rock, soil, and boulders ahead. When the ice melted 17,000 years ago, water flowed to the sea, creating streams and rivers that carved through rock. Large glacial fragments broke off, melted, and left depressions called kettles. If layers of fine silt and clay were deposited on the bottom of the depressions, the kettles collected water and ponds formed. Where waters were shallow or flowed slowly, seeds and spores were able to take root and flourish. Generations of plants grew and decomposed, building peat-rich sediments. As wind and water eroded the soil, the steep slopes grew gentler, slowing the passage of water. Plant communities diversified under these favorable conditions, attracting animals that fed on the plants. The sophisticated food web that developed brought advanced predators to the wetlands: snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), wolves (Canis lupus), several species of hawks, and humans (Homo sapiens).

Water levels in wetlands are variable, influenced by the underlying rock and soil makeup, rainfall, season, and ground water inputs. Despite these variable conditions, freshwater wetlands teem with life. Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is named for the weeping willows (Salix babylonica) along its shores. This lake attracts numerous waterfowl, including an occasional northern pintail (Anas acuta), hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), or blue-winged teal (Anas discors) in the fall. Snapping turtles may be seen mating here in the spring.

At the south shore of Willow Lake is a cattail marsh. Sedges, rushes, and wetland wildflowers are cropping up as water reclaims Lefrak Meadow, formerly the site of ballfields. Muskrats (Ondatra zibethica) munch on prolific chairmaker’s rush (Scirpus americana), while cottontail rabbits (Sylnilagus floridanus) frequent the brushy meadows, which provide good cover. In addition to housing these native species, freshwater wetlands also provide resting, breeding, and feeding grounds for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. Many of these birds arrive in New York City only twice a year as they travel along the Atlantic flyway, a major migratory route.

Directions to Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Flushing Meadows Corona Park Weather

  • Sat
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    76°F
  • Sun
    Chance Showers
    81°F
  • Mon
    Chance Thunderstorms
    80°F
  • Tue
    Mostly Sunny
    86°F

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