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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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3 comments:

  1. I’m sorry you had a disappointing day on the Bronx River. This is Maggie Greenfield – I’m the Greenway Director with the Bronx River Alliance. The Bronx River Greenway is very much a work-in-progress, but I agree with you: I wish that it could all be in place today (or better yet yesterday!)

    Would you please let me know where you found misleading information on our website? We do maintain the site regularly, with new postings almost every day. You can find our Walking Guide to the Bronx River by clicking on “Explore the River on Your Own” in the lower right-hand box. Then you’ll see a link to our Walking Guide in the navigation panel. We list three walks – and stress that the southern stretches of the Bronx River Greenway are still in development. In fact, with 5 projects in construction and 5 more breaking ground next year, the greenway is really taking shape!

    I would be happy to mail you a copy of our Walking Guide and can also give you some tips on some good walks that you can do today on the Bronx River. We also offer a number of organized canoe trips and walking tours – hope you will join us for one!
    I can be reached at Maggie.greenfield@parks.nyc.gov.

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  2. Ai Mami! Nice pictures.

    Hey Mami!

    Maaami!

    (sucking, kissing sounds)

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  3. The walking guide can be downloaded at bronxriver.org, but walkers must be aware of potential closures and major construction projects.

    There are so many people who don't even know the Bronx River exists (though they know about the parkway), there's definitely a long way to go in terms of building and rebuilding its surrounding parks as well as marketing them.

    That being said, it's kind of fun to go hunting for it especially in a group, and IF you go with the expectation that it will be a decidedly URBAN adventure. Alone like myself, and just back from spending a month in wilderness? Not so much.

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