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Monday, June 4, 2012

Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park, at the very northern tip of Manhattan, is a park like no other on the island, with the only remaining natural forest and a real salt marsh. The forest claws up the steep hill abruptly from the flat lower section with its benches and athletic fields.
This pair of birds darted across the salt marsh below. I'm not sure what they are – they look a bit like ducklings but ducklings wouldn't be running around by themselves. Immature coots? If anyone knows, please leave a comment!
I've seen more exotic-looking birds than that in Inwood Hill Park on past trips, but on this early June jaunt the songbirds made their presence known through sound more than sight. It had rained heavily the previous day, and the air in the woods smelled heavy, rich, and loamy, as if the Hudson River had lofted itself into the atmosphere.
The many unmarked trails with their straightaways, curves, and steps allow one to get some actual exercise while feeling more and more lost. Fortunately you can't go too far without catching a view of some waterway or other, and if you have a general sense of what's where surrounding Manhattan things tend to become clear.
Inwood Hill Park puts one in touch with the distant past in a way very few spots in the city do. The old growth and unleveled terrain hide signs of ancient habitation by the Lenape Indians, and the famous transaction at which Peter Minuit "bought" Manhattan from them in 1606 is said to have occurred here. It is said to have occurred in a number of other locations as well; we'll probably never know for sure. Whatever the case, these mounted authority figures are making sure the Indians don't try to take it back.
Not too many years ago the park and environs didn't feel all that safe, and you could wander the crumbling paths of Inwood Hill all afternoon and meet hardly anyone, with only a creeping anxiety for company. Nowadays, though, on a warm weekend day the park sees plenty of action. It's even safe for games of ultimate frisbee:
At the north end you can walk under the Henry Hudson Bridge, which leads to the Bronx…
…catch a view of some boats in the far distance…
…and on the way down, get a look at that impressive salt marsh.
It's impossible to get a true experience of the wild on the island of Manhattan, but in Inwood Hill Park's nearly 200 acres you can get closer than anywhere else to the natural elements that Henry Hudson saw when he first sailed up that wide, breathing estuary that bears his name.

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