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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ocean Breeze Park

The same day I visited Eibs Pond Park I stopped by two other Staten Island natural sites, Brady's Pond (the supposed public access to which I couldn't find) and Ocean Breeze Park, a large tidal meadow near South Beach. Aside from an athletic complex in one corner, the park has precious little for the breezes to waft over. All I found walking its paths were big stretches of nothing.

Entering from Quintard Street, which was under heavy construction, I found sandy paths, some of them flooded.

ocean breeze park staten island nyc
ocean breeze park staten island nyc

A big hump of asphalt was a mystery.

ocean breeze park staten island nyc

At first I thought I was the only human being in the park. But I did pass one couple walking the sandy paths (and avoiding the watery ones).

ocean breeze park staten island nyc

The Parks Department website explains that Ocean Breeze Park's 136 acres were "originally part of a vast tidal meadow through which a network of winding tidal creek channels traversed." It seems the creeks don't want to take no for an answer.

ocean breeze park staten island nyc

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Eibs Pond Park

One of Staten Island's little-known treasures is 16-acre Eibs Pond Park, a wetland nature reserve set surprisingly amid drab housing developments in the Park Hill neighborhood. At three acres the biggest kettle pond in the city, Eibs Pond centers a 16-acre protected wetlands area.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc kettle pond

(Forest Park and Blue Heron Park also have kettle ponds, water-filled depressions left by a retreating glacier.)

The entrances and signage reflect the park's homespun nature. Officially a New York City park only since 1989, it feels like the kind of reserve you might find in a distant suburb.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc
eibs pond park hill staten island nyc

A dirt path circles the pond. On my first approach, something fairly large jumped off a rock into the water with a loud splash, but my eyes weren't quick enough to see what it was. It didn't surface. At least not nearby. But I think it must have been a mammal.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc

I did see a red-winged blackbird. They're common in New York City's wetland areas.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc red-winged blackbird

A crude boardwalk bridge crosses the center of the wetland.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc

Residue of a complicated past litters the park. The Eibs family watered their horses and dairy cows here in the 1800s. Spending the summer of 1843 nearby, Henry David Thoreau, according to the Parks Department website, was inspired to write that "The whole island is like a garden," meaning Staten Island I think. In the early 20th century D.W. Griffith shot Birth of a Nation's Civil War battle sequences around the pond.

Then it became a water hazard for a golf course, and hosted curling competitions in the winter. During World War Two the site hosted Italian prisoners of war.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc
eibs pond park hill staten island nyc

A major restoration around the turn of the century gave us Eibs Pond Park roughly as we see it today. Tangles of trees and vines lend it a dense, murky, vaguely dangerous air, heightened by its small size, its evidence of occupation by the homeless, and, when I visited on a warm spring weekend, its emptiness.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc

On the other hand, the layout doesn't lend itself to lounging about, or to any sort of recreation. Unless you're a mysterious possible-mammal with a penchant for sudden dives into the pond. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

eibs pond park hill staten island nyc forever wild

Friday, April 6, 2018

Pier A Park, Hoboken

I hadn't spent any significant time in Hoboken, NJ in years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I lived in Jersey City I played a lot of music gigs in Hoboken. But back then Hoboken's southern stretch of waterfront wasn't somewhere you could go. Today it's home to Pier A Park, a wide grassy lawn jutting into the Hudson with a great view of Manhattan.

pier a park hoboken nj
pier a park hoboken nj

Only once before have I covered a park outside New York City on this blog, and that was a fascinating boat trip through New Jersey's Meadowlands – eight years ago. But seeing the skyline from Pier A, which has won a number of design awards, you can't help knowing you're tightly within Gotham's orbit. Not to mention that just north of here is Frank Sinatra Park (Sinatra was born in Hoboken, after all). Now try to get "New York, New York" out of your head.

pier a park hoboken nj

The area's history is commemorated in several ways. A large boulder and plaque honor the American Expeditionary Forces of World War One, "millions of young dedicated Americans" who from this spot "bravely sailed to foreign battlefields and helped save America and the world for democracy."

pier a park hoboken nj

I wonder how many Millennials would even know, without reading the inscription, which war is referenced in the POW-MIA memorials and flags that still dot public spaces around the country. The Vietnam War feels like ancient history now, but I remember the celebrations when it was finally over.

pier a park hoboken nj pow mia

There's a gazebo. Nothing special about it, I guess. But it's fun to say "gazebo."

pier a park hoboken nj

And fun to ride your bike off the roof. If that's your thing.

Finally, speaking of rides, how many passersby know who is depicted in this statue by George Edwin Bissell? It's Irish immigrant Samuel Sloan (1817-1907), who served between 1867 and 1899 as President of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, which terminated right here.

pier a park hoboken nj samuel sloan

Sloan stands close by the best view from Pier A Park, which isn't of Manhattan but of Hoboken Terminal (built in 1907), right next door, where his railroad terminated.

pier a park hoboken nj lackawanna terminal

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

St. Mary's Park

One of the original Bronx parks conceived by urban visionary John Mullaly, who called parks "lungs of the metropolis" and founded the New York Park Association in 1881, St. Mary's Park remains one of the borough's outdoor jewels to this day. Said Mullaly of the area that would become the South Bronx's largest park, "all the points that constitute the charm of a public pleasure ground are to be found in abundance: wood and water, trees and shrubs, hill and valley, barren rocks and emerald meadows; and all these so disposed that one form of beauty heightens the other by contrast."

st marys park south bronx nyc

Once part of Jonas Bronck's 17th-century estate, later owned by the family of Gouverneur Morris, the 35 acres of St. Mary's Park were a muddy wonderland during a recent, very welcome January thaw.

st marys park south bronx nyc

A string of cyclists biked through as I watched from atop one of the park's high ridges, while ballplayers gathered across the street from the landmark 1890s Public School 277.

st marys park south bronx nyc
st marys park south bronx nyc
st marys park south bronx nyc

The next photo sums up the state of St. Mary's in the winter:

st marys park south bronx nyc

A child gazes triumphantly from the top of one of the park's tremendous rock protrusions. Behind him, apartment buildings peer through the leafless trees. Below him, someone (presumably the Parks Dept.) has painted over some graffiti with decidedly non-matching green paint. To the left, someone (presumably not the Parks Dept.) has discarded some old clothes, probably just now reappeared as snow melted. To the far left, bundled-up visitors enjoy the sunny, relatively warm day.

In case you haven't guessed it by now, climbing on rocks makes me feel like a kid again myself.

st marys park south bronx nyc

For the less adventurous, St. Mary's Park offers more civilized ways to negotiate its hills.

st marys park south bronx nyc

For lovers oblivious to mud, the park can provide a relatively secluded spot even in January.

st marys park south bronx nyc

The mud didn't deter these parents either.

st marys park south bronx nyc

A few of the trees have distinct personalities.

st marys park south bronx nyc
st marys park south bronx nyc
st marys park south bronx nyc

Announcing an allocation of funds to refresh one of the park's playgrounds in 2015, then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called St. Mary's Park "well-loved but under-resourced." Wrote Lisa W. Foderado in the New York Times, "Pity St. Mary’s Park. Too small and too poor to be supported by a park conservancy that might fix up its faded charms. Too big to make it onto the list of 35 parks in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Parks Initiative." In fact, though, St. Mary's Park has a recreation center, a dog park, a fitness loop, tennis courts, and a couple of playgrounds. (In fact, according to the Parks Department, it was the site of the Bronx's first playground, in 1914.)

But what I like best about St. Mary's Park is, in Foderado's words, its "hilly terrain flecked with glacial outcroppings and mature trees." Mott Haven is one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, but it has a real treasure here, along with three historic districts and – in case St. Mary's isn't enough park for you – a recently opened footbridge to Randall's Island.

st marys park south bronx nyc

To close, a footnote: There's another St. Mary's Park in New York City, sort of. Back in 2014, after exploring Carroll Park in Brooklyn (not much to explore, actually), I came upon what I described as "two abandoned, fenced off, gloomy recreation areas called St. Mary's Park and St. Mary's Playground. They look more like movie sets for a gang war film than anything that was ever fit for children." This year, funding was designated to develop these spaces, which are scheduled to open in April 2018. With, presumably, a new playground. But probably without glacial outcroppings.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Barretto Point Park and Tiffany Street Pier

tiffany street viele avenue barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Drawn to Hunts Point in the Bronx by the recently identified slave burial ground at Joseph Rodman Drake Park, we stayed in the neighborhood for a look at the waterfront oasis of Barretto Point Park at the northern end of the East River.

Before we even entered the park, the city's history peered out at us from a pair of plain street signs at the corner of Viele Avenue and Tiffany Street. The former is named for Egbert Ludovicus Viele of Viele Map fame, while the latter memorializes H.D. Tiffany of the Tiffany & Co. family. In the 18th century Tiffany inherited the land that became Hunts Point from his aunt and uncle, Charlotte Leggett and William H. Fox. (Leggetts are prominent in the landowners' cemetery in Drake Park.)

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Built where once a sand and gravel operation and an asphalt plant stood, the park takes its name from Barretto Point just to the south, itself named for Francis J. Barretto, a 19th-century merchant and Westchester County Assemblyman who owned an estate in the area with his wife, Julia Coster Barretto (Coster Street, of course – named for her – is just two blocks away). Until 1895, Westchester County extended west to the Bronx River, just a mile or so to the east of Barretto Point Park.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

As ForgottenNY noted back in 2009, the park occupies "5 acres of East River waterfront…its presence is heartening in that even in NYC's most out-of-the-way, visitor-unfriendly areas, a brand-new park with views of the towering Manhattan skyscrapers is available." Upon its opening in 2006 Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe truthfully called it "a new jewel in the crown of waterfront parks."

Much closer than those Manhattan skyscrapers is North Brother Island, most famous as the location of the long-abandoned sanitarium to which Mary ("Typhoid Mary") Mallon was exiled for much of her life.

north brother island barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

You can also get a pretty good look at Riker's Island, New York City's infamous prison colony.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Much more than a vantage point, the park has fishing piers, canoeing and kayaking, basketball and volleyball courts, and in the summer an floating swimming pool offshore on an old barge (Curbed has photos.) There's also a small amphitheater and a really nice promenade.

barretto point park amphitheater hunts point bronx nyc

None of it was in use on a December weekend. No one was in the park besides us.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc
barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

The grounds have been nicely laid out and cared for. The beach, not so much. Maybe it just has the wintertime blues, or maybe it suffered from Hurricane Sandy.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Abutting the park is the 450-foot Tiffany Street Pier, a neighborhood fishing favorite long before the park existed. As of this writing it's closed for repairs from damage from Sandy (projected completion: April 2018). Untapped Cities visited the pier and published photos just one year before the storm.

It's yet another reminder that while we enjoy our waterfront we should keep climate change in mind. Nothing lasts forever, but there is much that may be more speedily gone than we ever could have imagined.

All photos © Critical Lens Media

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joseph Rodman Drake Park

Alerted by a recent New York Times article titled "Honoring a Hidden Slave Burial Ground," we headed up to Hunts Point in the Bronx to pay a visit to Joseph Rodman Drake Park, a two-and-a-half-acre rectangle with a fenced-off cemetery at its center – and, underfoot, a recently identified and as-yet-unmarked slave burial ground.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Though long-neglected, tombstones still stand in the white people's cemetery.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Hunts Point, best known for its produce and fish markets, is a desolate neighborhood on weekends, and besides us there wasn't a soul – well, not a corporeal soul, anyway – in or around the park on a recent windswept December Saturday. Buried here are members of the old landowning families, notably the Hunts ("Hunts Point"), Leggetts, and Willets.

Also here is Joseph Rodman Drake, who gave his name to the park. Trained as a doctor, he is remembered as a noted poet of the early 19th century whose "verse made reference to the natural beauty of the Bronx," as the historic sign says.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc
The nearly obliterated lettering on this stone in the cemetery memorializes Thomas Hunt, Cornelius Willet, and John Leggett.

Forty-four enslaved Africans lived on the Hunts Point peninsula in 1800. Somewhere in this park, outside the cemetery, beneath the trees that include a handsome willow and several sweetgums, lie the remains of up to 11 of them, rediscovered just a few years ago by local students from P.S. 48, also known as the Joseph Rodman Drake School.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc
joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

An earlier generation of kids from the same school planted a mighty oak in the corner of the white people's cemetery. It's nice to see a different and once-forgotten aspect of this area's history being recognized today.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

After writing poems such as "The Culprit Fay," "The American Flag," and "Bronx" ("Yet I will look upon thy face again / My own romantic Bronx, and it will be / A face more pleasant than the face of men"), Drake died of tuberculosis in 1820 at just 25 years old. Edgar Allen Poe, himself a longtime resident of the Bronx, had been a big fan.

"The Culprit Fay," a narrative poem of over 600 lines, predates Christina Rossetti's far better-known "Goblin Market," on a similar theme, by decades. Here's one passage:

The stars are on the moving stream,
And fling, as its ripples gently flow,
A burnished length of wavy beam
In an eel-like, spiral line below;
The winds are whist, and the owl is still;
The bat in the shelvy rock is hid;
And naught is heard on the lonely hill
But the cricket's chirp, and the answer shrill
Of the gauze-winged katydid;
And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill,
Who moans unseen, and ceaseless sings
Ever a note of wail and woe,
Till morning spreads her rosy wings,
And earth and sky in her glances glow.

After a lot of faery drama, the poem ends with the magical sprites having left the scene:

The hill-tops gleam in morning's spring,
The skylark shakes his dappled wing,
The day-glimpse glimmers on the lawn,
The cock has crowed, and the fays are gone.

Doesn't sound much like the Bronx today. But a fence around a nearby vacant lot – or is it? – bears signs that the fays of old may still hover in the neighborhood.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Faeries or no, poetry lives on in the poet Drake's park. The New York Shakespeare Exchange's Sonnet Project paid a recent visit.

After tramping around for a while, wondering if and when funding will be made available to create the proposed memorial at the site of the Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground, we, like the fays, left the scene. I'll leave you with a video from the Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground Project.

All photos © Critical Lens Media