Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Futile Search for the Bronx River Greenway

I don't know what's scarier: traversing a scorpion-laden lava field alone under a blazing hot sun, or wielding a map and a camera through the Bronx city streets amidst comments about the size of my posterior.

It's been a long time since I've been scared in New York City, but after a month away, I was not ready to try an urban hike through the Bronx.

I'd done one before, in a group along the Old Croton Aqueduct, which is in disrepair but is ultimately very walkable and quite nice, dotted with parks workers spearing garbage. Today I tried walking along the Bronx River Greenway, starting at River Park just outside of the Bronx Zoo entrance, where a short waterfall delights splashing children and sends fish downstream for a waiting line and hook. That was the last time I actually got to the river along the last four miles of the trail.

Every attempt to get to the river's banks was thwarted. Drew Gardens was closed. The alternate access one block south was closed. In fact the entire West Farms section of the Bronx River was fenced off for renovations.

After some city walking under the elevated train and over the 174th Street Bridge, behind a shopping center and past a lot of shops selling hubcabs and rims, I came to the main attraction of my walk today: Concrete Plant Park. It was closed.

Concrete Plant Park

The park looked completely renovated, including some of the old plant silos which had been retained and painted red for the new park, but once again, I faced a locked gate.

Westchester Station

The entry point at the intersection of Westchester Ave and Sheridan Expressway (Robert Moses' Road to Nowhere) also houses the old Westchester Station from the Bronx Railroad, which has been closed since the 1930s. The building is in good shape despite the appearance of graffiti on the support wall beneath it. The street level part of the station has been devoured by greenery, and since it's right by the Sheridan off-ramp, there's no easy access to or inside of it.

A nice discovery, but definitely not worth hauling my cookies an hour up into the Bronx for a concrete walk I could have done closer to home in Manhattan, and without the leering looks and not-so-hushed commentary. Is the Bronx River a hidden treasure of the city? Yes, perhaps too hidden. Are its more northerly stretches more visible and accessible? With a guide printed in 2006 and a website that hasn't really been updated in the last three years either, I don't know whether I'll even bother to find out.

Today's walk would have been OK if I'd actually gotten to see something, but instead it just felt like a big ol' waste. I suspect that trying to duplicate my daily hikes from my Joshua Tree trip in the city is setting myself up for certain disappointment. But if that's true, then what do I do? Go back to the way things were before I left?

In Joshua Tree, every day I would wonder, "What am I going to do tomorrow?" I would spend hours online, researching nature preserves and canyons and abandoned buildings and ghost towns, and would plot out a loose itinerary for the next day, usually trying to include some kind of walk. Even though I was figuring it out on a day-by-day basis, I felt like I had some kind of schedule, and plenty of things to see and do. There were plenty of times I faced failure in my adventures: the Edom Hill abandoned water park, Indian Cove road closures, unmarked North Park trailhead, the list goes on and on. But at the desert's pace, and when keeping farmer's hours, there was always enough time to drive to the next trail or ghost town or canyon. As centrally-located as I am in Manhattan, everything feels like such a hassle here, so far away. Sure, a good frozen margarita is mere steps away from my apartment. But how far do I have to go for some solitude, and a sense of awe and wonder?

And how many people do I have to sit next to on the subway to get there?

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