Guerrilla History & Urban Exploration

New York Daily News: Urban Explorer Leads Drainees

New York Daily News, August 2, 2005
"Urban Explorer Leads Drainees"
Page 27 in Print Edition.
Text by Derek Rose, photos by John Tracy.

Text from: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2005/08/02/2005-08-02_urban_explorer_leads_drainees.html
Tuesday, August 2nd 2005
AS WE DESCEND into the cavernous storm sewer tunnel, the air feels cool and smells remarkably odor-free. There's the soft sound of running water, while the concrete walls are damp and rough. For the next few hours, a tour guide named Steve Duncan will be leading a small group of explorers through the underground network of drainage tunnels in Queens. "Knowing that there's a labyrinth of tunnels, who wouldn't want to go down here?" asks Duncan, 26, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. "Once you realize how much there is out there, it's hard to resist." The editor of the Web site undercity.org, Duncan has seen much of the city that's off-limits and underground, beneath a manhole or behind a closed grate. Today it's a storm sewer in Queens. Tomorrow it might be an abandoned subway station, a derelict mental hospital or the Old Croton Aqueduct, a 40-mile water tunnel unused since 1890. They avoid the sealed "sanitary" sewage system. "It's sort of uncharted territory in a place millions of people live," said Lefty Leibowitz, 34, of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. "And it's kind of fun to be places you're not supposed to be." The followers of the odd hobby called UE - urban explorations - or sometimes urban spelunking, are young adventurers intent on documenting the hidden infrastructure of cities. But authorities say UE can be hazardous and illegal - especially given security concerns in the post-9/11 world. "They are not allowed in our sites," said city Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ian Michaels. "As you can probably imagine, we do not approve of unauthorized visitors. These are dangerous places. I only hope whatever they're doing, they're being very, very careful." Duncan tries to be cautious, carrying an air monitor to warn of possible contaminants, but concedes he was once caught by a changing tide while exploring a storm tunnel system near Jamaica Bay. "It was actually the closest to dying I've ever been," said Duncan, who escaped the rising tide by making an unscheduled exit up a manhole. Nothing nearly so dramatic occurs during today's adventure, with the explorers mostly encountering just ankle-deep rainwater and the odd bit of trash. "It's a lot less disgusting than I thought it'd be," said Amanda Wagner, 22, a paralegal and Columbia University student on her first storm-sewer trek. "It's clean here, cleaner than it is up there."

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