People Of The Borough: Willis Elkin

Originally Written For the Queens Ledger 

Willis Elkins, a Texas native, is a founding member of the North Brooklyn Boat Club in Greenpoint.

Today, he currently volunteers at the club as a canoe leader and instructor to provide members access to the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterways.

His curiosity for the waterway partly started the North Brooklyn Boat Club.

Elkins began exploring Brooklyn’s waterways, and soon found plenty of people that shared the same interest. Together, the like-minded group founded the boat club.

Elkins said the boating season begins in May and runs until the water gets too cold in October. The 2013 boating season has already begun.

During the season, the boat club provides environmental education about the polluted water they canoe on, however Elkins believes Newtown Creek has the potential to get much cleaner.

“The water has had 150 years of pollution,” Elkins said, however adding that, “there is a low risk of exposure” when joining in the boating excursions.

Elkins, who became an expert on the water as a kid when he began practicing at youth summer camps, now teaches his students about the history, ecology and wildlife of the Newtown Creek.

For a monthly fee of $40, members can join Elkins and the boat club in a series of bimonthly events on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month. These events also allow non-members to come and set sail for free.

On a side note, his volunteer work has also resulted in his Lighter Life project, a program he developed in 2010 when he started collecting and photographing lighters he found while out sailing.

While Elkins said he is finished with Lighter Life, he is not yet finished collecting while canoeing. “I still collect interesting things I find,” he said.

The items he rounds up now revolve around the theme of place or type of item, all told through the lesson offered on the creek.

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