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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is part of the vast Gateway National Recreation Area, which spans New York City and New Jersey and also includes Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park in Queens. We paid an April visit mid-pandemic expecting few fellow excursionists. Instead we found the parking lot packed. Seems we weren't the only ones desperate to get out of our apartment and into the sunshine.

Fortunately the paths around picturesque West Pond are wide enough to maintain social distancing, and most (though not all) human visitors were wearing masks.

jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks
jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks

We'd forgotten that this is a birdwatchers' haven, and hadn't brought our binoculars. Honestly, I had barely even had this blog in mind when we planned the day, that's how urgent was the need to just get out and enjoy nature. We did get a good look at a number of iridescent blue tree swallows.

jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks
Tree Swallow (3824669872)
Brian Ralphs / Creative Commons

Several other bird species were present too, just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of types that come through here each year.

jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks

At the edge of West Pond, shore birds were poking their long beaks into the sand, while in the distance the towers of Manhattan loomed.

jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks
jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks

The view across Jamaica Bay itself was wide open.

jamaica bay wildlife refuge gateway national recreation area queens new york city parks

When we left, the entrance was even busier, with cars crawling around the lot looking for spaces. Our parks seem even more important to us when in-person activities are all cancelled and we spend most of our time in our homes. We don't choose to live in a city so we can stay at home. The whole point is to be out, experiencing the multitude of cultures, the activities of every kind, cultural events, gatherings, restaurants, nightlife. Just now, parks are pretty much what we have left.

Except where noted, all photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Orchard Beach and Hunter Island

On a sunny April day in the Year of the Pandemic, we headed out past Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to Orchard Beach and Hunter Island, where we could enjoy open space and paths through the woods while maintaining social distancing.

You never know what you're going to find, or be able to access, when you venture far from home in the time of COVID-19. But the Orchard Beach parking lot was open, though only (said the sign) till 3 PM. So we parked and headed first toward the beach. Despite all my exploration of parks over the past decade of keeping this blog, I'd never been here.

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Trash tennis, anyone?

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

There was plenty of room to keep your distance on the beach. Of course, it wasn't beach weather. We saw only one person dressed for summer.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

Off the north end of the crescent-shaped beach, the Kazimiroff Nature Trail begins. It's actually the artery for a network of paths that snake through the woods of Hunter Island.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

The Siwanoy Indians called this place Lap-Haa-Waach King, "place of stringing beads," since they found shells here to string together for ceremony and currency. (Thanks to the Scenes from the Trail blog, whose photos provide a greener, later-spring view, for this information.) In 1654 the Indians sold this onetime island, now the northern end of the peninsula, to Thomas Pell.

John Hunter bought it in 1804, built a mansion and cultivated a garden. Later it was a popular vacation destination for camping. Robert Moses joined it to the mainland when he filled in an adjacent bay to create today's Orchard Beach.

Thanks to the late historian and preservationist Theodore Kazimiroff, the erstwhile isle has returned to nature. Nothing appears to remain from Hunter's habitation except for some of the wider trails that were once woods roads. Other trails are rougher. The paths are marked with red or blue signposts, but it's easiest to just wander the web of walkways. You're on a small peninsula; you really can't get lost.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

The trails around the edges of the peninsula offer lovely views of Pelham Bay, along with some of its denizens, including swans and egrets.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

It's well worth trekking to the northern tip, where you'll find sublime striated glacial rock formations.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

Off the northeastern corner of the peninsula, a fun plank walk takes you across a salt marsh to a tiny rocky island.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

From here you'll find good views of a spit of an isle with dramatic glacial erratics and, further away, green Glen Island, a park in the Westchester town of New Rochelle.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks
orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

But I'm just as happy in the middle of the woods as I am by the water. A tangle of trees, vines, and fallen leaves left over from autumn, surrounding a not-particularly-remarkable rock outcropping – that's my idea of heaven.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

As the pandemic eases and summer comes, our agenda should fill up with more frequent park excursions. There's more to see even at Hunter Island, in fact – the parking lot's purported 3 PM closing time induced us to head back without exploring Twin Island, a small former island connected to Hunter. So we'll see you out there, somewhere in this again-to-be-great city of Gotham.

orchard beach hunter island pelham bay bronx new york city parks

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Mitsubishi Riverwalk and Bronx River Canoeing

In early November the Bronx River Alliance sponsored one of its Bronx River canoeing events in tandem with a riverside celebration of Native American Heritage Month, co-sponsored by Moskehtu Consulting. This beautiful partly-sunny day was a perfect time to make a connection with the Native American spirit of the region – and for fall foliage, Bronx style.

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The site was at the end of the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, an 0.4-mile trail that begins just outside the Bronx Zoo's Boston Road entrance. The path runs through verdant forest along a short stretch of the Bronx River, passing an 1840s dam, and ends at a small clearing and boat launch. There, representatives of Native American culture awaited in a gathering called Moskehtu Village, ready to share objects and knowledge about herbology, cooking, clothing, music, and other aspects of indigenous culture.

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It's easy to get here by subway. It's just a short walk from the Pelham Parkway station on the 2 or 5 train. (There are even stained glass panels at the above-ground stations along the line to get you in the mood for nature.)

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The Riverwalk affords a wonderful mini-escape from the urban landscape.

mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river new york city parks
mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river new york city parks
mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river new york city parks

The dam provides a window into the long history of human use and manipulation of the Bronx River.

mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river new york city parks

At the "Village" the river beckoned irresistibly. Canoeing on the Bronx River is something Mrs. Odyssey, in particular, has been wanting to do for years.

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We signed up to canoe and visited the displays while waiting our turn.

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The term "moskhetu" refers to medicinal herbs, from a root meaning "pasture," "grass," or "green," according to the Smithsonian Institution's 1903 Natick Dictionary. ("Natick," I've just learned, is not only a pretty suburb of Boston, it's another word for the Algonkian language more often today known as Wampanoag.) This historic lexicon, complete with an introduction by none other than Edward Everett Hale, is available via a Google search.

We got our canoe, and after a quick mini-lesson in steering from a friendly Bronx River Alliance staffer, we set off. "Don't go past the second bridge," we were told, so as not to get swept over a waterfall. Oh, the hazards of big-city living.

mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river canoeing new york city parks
mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river canoeing new york city parks
mitsubishi riverwalk bronx river canoeing new york city parks

For more on the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, which has been welcoming visitors since 2004, see the Hidden Waters Blog. But don't just read about it. Come and walk it for yourself. And for the optimum experience, pick a canoeing day!

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Sunday, September 29, 2019

North 5th Street Pier and Park

Yet another new park opened this eventful summer of 2019 in New York City. North 5th Street Pier and Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn gives the neighborhood significantly more access to the waterfront. Just weeks after opening, the park was well used by after-work sun worshippers on a breezy early Friday evening in September.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks
north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

Naturally, it doesn't hurt that the NYC Ferry's North Williamsburg stop is right here. Or that the views are fantastic.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks
north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

With very long piers and extended stretches of boardwalk, you can actually get in a decent walk.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks
north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

There's even a sculpture set to play under, "Crescendo" by Mark Gibian.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

Face away from the water, and you feel more like you're in an urban plaza than a park. But with modern furniture to camp out on, and relatively inoffensive architecture as a backdrop, that's not so bad.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks
north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

One pier is lined with turf for yoga or – whatever.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

Most everything here is brand new, but there are a few signs of history. Dusty grass pokes up between the boards near Charlie Chaplin. And there's a rusty old bus or trolley stop, a remnant of something. What exactly? I don't know.

north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks
north 5th street pier and park williamsburg brooklyn new york city parks

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media