Search This Blog

Loading...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Swinburne Island

While not parks per se, Swinburne Island and Hoffman Island, east of Staten Island's South Beach and west of Brooklyn's Sea Gate and Coney Island, are managed by the National Park Service, mainly for the benefit of birds. But in recent years the smaller of these two former quarantine islands has become an important home to New York City's newly thriving population of harbor seals. Last weekend New York City Audubon sponsored a Winter Eco-Cruise via New York Water Taxi to observe the seals at Swinburne.

swinburne island

It was a frigid February day with a freakish amount of ice floating in Buttermilk Channel and other parts of the harbor. I felt like I was on an ice-cutter in the Arctic. I don't know much about boats, so it was interesting (and gratifying) to see that New York Water Taxi's yellow boats were equipped to push through fields of floating ice.

swinburne island

The bitter-cold wind kept us in the boat's warm interior for much of the trip, and the spray on the windows often froze into a temporary glaze. Still we had plenty of opportunity to observe the many species of birds the Audubon guide pointed out – cormorants, merganser ducks, hawks, grebes, and brants to name just a few. And when we arrived at Swinburne the crowd of gulls was a sight to behold.

swinburne island
swinburne island

Though long since abandoned, some of the four-acre island's buildings had stood until Hurricane Sandy flattened them in 2012. Created out of landfill in the 1870s, the islands were used to quarantine immigrants with contagious diseases, and victims of the cholera epidemic of 1910-11. According to Untapped Cities, which has some warm-weather photos of the islands and more details on their history, "Swinburne Island housed a hospital dedicated to cholera and yellow fever cases, a crematory, and a mortuary. Here, patients were fumigated with sulfur, and those who passed away on the island went to either the mortuary or crematory, depending on the season as well as the preferences of their relatives or friends."

Hoffman Island was later used as a military training facility.

As for Swinburne Island's 21st-century seals, we saw not a one, though the guide did profess to spot a seal poking its head up from the water for a breath of air. It may be that the rocks of the island were too icy for the pinnipeds to get comfortable perches. Whatever the cause, our band of 40 or so hardy human souls saw no seals that shivery day.

verrazano bridge
Oil tanker near the Verrazano Bridge

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clove Lakes Park

There are no cloves in Staten Island's 193-acre Clove Lakes Park, which includes a 131-acre New York City Forever Wild preserve. The name comes from the Dutch word "kloven," which means cleft and refers here to the valley between Emerson and Grymes Hills. A brook that used to run through the valley was dammed over the years, creating the lakes and ponds that give Clove Lakes Park the other part of its name. More details on the history of the park, which began its history as such in the 1930s, are at the Parks Department website.

clove lakes park staten island
clove lakes park staten island

The southernmost lake in the park is Clove Lake. On a sunny day in early November, fall colors made for some gorgeous lighting.

clove lakes park staten island
clove lakes park staten island

A dirt path for running is a luxury most Manhattanites like me don't have nearby. Makes me wish Clove Lakes Park was an easy walk from the Staten Island Ferry.

clove lakes park staten island

The northwest part of Clove Lakes Park is home to a tulip tree known as Staten Island's largest living thing, 107 feet tall and at least 300 years old. We looked for it without success, though it may have been unmarked among the scrambles of tall straight trees in the woods.

clove lakes park staten island

More striking were these less grand but curiously-situated trees growing out of the water. They reminded me of Florida's mangroves.

clove lakes park staten island

Ducks find nice hideaways along the eastern edge of Clove Lake.

clove lakes park staten island

The reeds grow tall along Martling Lake, the middle of the park's three main bodies of water.

clove lakes park staten island

It was a good day for a brisk walk in the woods, with just enough people around to make the place feel active without anything remotely like a crowd.

clove lakes park staten island

If all these living things get too much for you, there are cemeteries around too. St. Peter's Cemetery dates from 1848 and is, according to Wikipedia, Staten Island's oldest Catholic burial ground. Abutting the eastern edge of the park and thus providing a nice view for any restless departed, it still welcomes deceased Staten Island Catholics.

clove lakes park staten island

Going back further in time, you can hunt down the remains of the Old Clove Baptist Church Cemetery (1809) just outside the park's southeast corner. Evidently there isn't much to actually see there, though. And that elusive tulip tree at the opposite end of the park is a good century older even than the Baptist cemetery.

So instead of dwelling on final dwellings, let's look at these fall colors reflected in the waters of Brooks Lake, the northernmost of the lake trio:

clove lakes park staten island

The ice skating rink at the southern end of the park was just getting going for the season. Jingoistic country music was blasting from the sound system as a handful of people tried out the ice, a reminder that we were in New York City's red borough. It wasn't the sort of accompaniment to which skaters in Prospect Park or Central Park would expect to be slip-sliding away.

clove lakes park staten island

We took our leave of Clove Lakes Park fully aware of the plethora of parks we still have to explore in Staten Island. But have no fear: As more of our friends get priced out of Brooklyn, I expect to have more and more people to visit on Staten Island, NYC's greenest borough.

clove lakes park staten island

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gil Hodges Community Garden

Once again I'm breaking my rule and covering a community garden. This time it's because the Gil Hodges Community Garden in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn is unlike any other space I've come across in the city.

The garden was founded in 1992, 20 years after the death of Gil Hodges, the Dodgers star and manager of the World Series champion 1969 Mets. Also known as the Carroll Street Garden, this spot became in 2013 the first of New York Restoration Project's community gardens to implement a storm water management system. By capturing storm water runoff it helps prevent untreated water from entering the nearby Gowanus Canal, which has been the subject of a huge cleanup project for many years.

The plants nurtured here seem to have been selected for their evocative names: sweetbay magnolia, mountainmint, orange azalea, ruby spice summersweet. It's almost enough to make you suspect the names were made up just for their sound.

gil hodges community garden carroll street garden

Something about the design of the garden's shed struck my fancy. Here it is in all its architectural glory.

gil hodges community garden carroll street garden

Letting my imagination run a little wild in the patio area, I was reminded of the courtyard of an Italian abbey.

gil hodges community garden carroll street garden

Next up, I'll be getting back to actual parks, with a visit to park-rich Staten Island. But I felt this community garden unlike any other was worthy of a pause and a note.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alice's Garden

Community gardens are, as a rule, outside the purview of this project (my blog, my rules!). In addition, I normally feel I have to actually step into a park in order to say I have visited it. But Alice's Garden on 34th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in Manhattan looked so nice on the September day I passed by that I just had to include it (my blog, my rules to break!).

Alice's Garden is one of a group of Manhattan gardens called Key Parks. You can get a key that works for all of them from Community Board 4, and I aim to do just that. Meantime, here's Alice's Garden from outside the gate.

alice's garden

Saturday, November 1, 2014

High Line, Northern Section

In September we happened to visit the High Line on the weekend the northernmost section opened to the public for the first time. Though the final transformation still awaited some finishing touches, the change from the overgrown trackbed we'd toured in the summer of 2013 to landscaped park was mostly complete.

We headed north and approached the westward turn at W. 30th Street:

high line

Then the view opened up into the guts of the Hudson Yards development, where a whole new mini-city is going up on the West Side of Manhattan – right in the flood plain, of course. Though I don't suppose the waters of the next Superstorm Sandy will reach up to the height of the High Line's glorious bed.

high line

We walked west towards the Hudson River:

high line

The railyard will be completely covered over when Hudson Yards is complete.

high line
high line

The old elevated rail line swings north again for the High Line's final couple of blocks.

high line

This newest and final section of the High Line has a different flavor from the rest. To the south the park spears between buildings and over city streets. Here it's open to the sky and the river.

high line

Finally, the intrepid walker is treated to an excellent view of the picturesque Javits Center.

high line

Now more or less complete, the High Line is and will remain one of New York City's most celebrated, and weirdest, parks.

high line

Friday, October 24, 2014

Juniper Valley Park

Obscure but deliciously named, Juniper Valley Park doesn't look like much in a satellite view, not, at least from the passive enjoyment perspective, as it seems mostly open fields with sports facilities. But the 55 acres of this large park in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens offers unexpected pleasures. Mostly of the arboreal variety.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The interesting history of the land that became Juniper Valley Park is too complicated to delve into here; the Parks Department website goes into plenty of detail. Suffice it to say WPA workers built the park in the 1940s over land once claimed by a peat bog, a farm, a garbage dump, and the Pullis Farm Cemetery, which still exists, established in the 1840s, restored in the 1990s. Somehow in my circumnavigation of the park I completely missed it. Have to go back sometime, I guess.

The trees are the big visual draw here.

juniper valley park middle village queens
juniper valley park middle village queens
juniper valley park middle village queens

A dense, colorful flower arrangement decorated the 9-11 memorial on the sunny September day of my visit.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The trees fringe tremendous fields dedicated to baseball and soccer.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The minuscule size of the human figures in the next photo will give you an idea how huge these fields are.

juniper valley park middle village queens

If you know what tree bears the fruit in the next photo, please leave a comment! I can't find it in my New York City Trees book. One problem is that the fruit got my camera-eye so excited I took such a closeup that there's no clear look at the leaves.

juniper valley park middle village queens

There's this tree, too – a young ash?

juniper valley park middle village queens

And this one – some kind of pine, I think, but which kind?

juniper valley park middle village queens

Whether there are any juniper or white cedar trees, as were found here when it was the Juniper Valley Swamp, I don't know, but I suspect not. Someone did allow imaginations to run wide in selecting trees to plant in Juniper Valley Park, though.

As far as wildlife goes, this squirrel who found a tree the same color as his fur will have to suffice. A man on a bench who saw me with my camera did ask if I were looking for a falcon. No, I replied. He pointed at a small tree and told me a falcon made a habit of alighting there. For all I know, though, he was making it up. Much like his falcon, he didn't seem to be quite all there.

juniper valley park middle village queens

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bar and Grill Park

When I stumbled upon Bar and Grill Park in DUMBO it didn't occur to me that jan bell between the bridgesthis "empty patch on York Street along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway" had been named to commemorate the Between the Bridges pub, an old longshoreman's bar (and gritty little music venue) I used to frequent years ago when I had a share in a rehearsal studio in the neighborhood.

That was before the DUMBO real estate frenzy turned the Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass zone into the epitome of a trendy, exclusive neighborhood. I've never seen a neighborhood "renaissance" happen so quickly and so completely.

between the bridges dumbo brooklyn
"Podium" by Tony Linberger, a painting of the old Between the Bridges pub

Naturally, this revitalization meant the death of the neighborhood bar. Between the Bridges has been gone for over a decade now. The same thing happened a few years later, and more famously and controversially, to Freddy's, another place where I used to play music and that I had grown attached to, when the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center development came along.

The Brooklyn Papers reported back in January of 2007 on the greening of this patch across the street from where the old watering hole was replaced by a gleaming tower. DUMBO NYC has photos taken just after the trees were planted. They've grown richly since.

bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn

The wall mural by CAM (Craig Anthony Miller) is part of the DUMBO Walls public art project.

bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn
bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn

No one said the neighborhood stopped being artsy. It just stopped being affordable. And of course, lost its old-time flavor. Such is the way of the City.