The South Bronx has made great strides since its 1970s nadir. Approaching Soundview Park from Colgate Avenue, though, a little-used sidewalk shows enough lingering urban decay to trip you up if you tried to make any literal "great strides."
Soundview Park's 205 acres run along the east bank of the Bronx River where it opens out into the East River. The East River was once called the Long Island Sound, hence the name of the Soundview neighborhood.
Once open water and tidal marsh, the area was acquired by the Parks Department in 1937, built into a park (by Robert Moses, of course), and expanded in the '50s and '60s.
Today, Soundview Park is one of those green spaces where you can wander and feel like you've left the city completely behind.
Weird purple mushrooms? Alien invasion pods? No – someone had discarded a bunch of eggplants at the base of a large tree by the river. Go figure.
It's a big park, and we'd already done a lot of walking and exploring that day, so we elected to stick to the path that hugged the river, where some very old trees stand guard.
A drummer (far right) sets up to provide a soundtrack to a baseball game in Soundview Park
Strangely – and at times, a little spookily – the baseball crowd was the only large group of people we'd encounter in the park on this beautiful late-summer weekend day.
It's easy to picture the park's marshy origin.
The waterfront offers some really nice views.
A feeling of isolation enshrouded us during much of our walk. We were glad to reach the pleasant sitting area at a spot called Soundview Point.
Towards the far southeast tip of the park, you can get a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.
The river views are nice, but the payoff for us came at the park's southernmost reaches, where a completely different environment, one of sand, beachgrass, and flowers, suddenly takes over.
Across a tract of salt march recently restored at a cost of over $9 million, a row of houses lines the waterfront in the little neighborhood of Harding Park, which is "dominated," says Wikipedia, "by detached bungalows very closely set, many of them built off the grid." Forgotten NY has some good photos in this decade-old post: The neighborhood, it says, "seems independent from the rest of the Bronx, since its street pattern is different and it's cut off by water from the rest of the borough. It's very, very odd."
Well, here at Park Odyssey we're always in search of the "very, very odd." Especially if it's "off the grid."
There's more to Soundview Park than one lonely walk along its waterfront. There's a soccer field, a track and field area, a brand new dog run, and a Facebook-only group called Friends of Soundview Park that sponsors events. There's a "massive boulder" called Black Rock that, according the Parks Department, "may have been a glacial erratic transported to the South Bronx by a glacier about 10,000 years ago. Mistaken for a meteorite by early settlers, the boulder was moved to Soundview Park, where it can be seen today."
We half-heartedly looked for the notable stone, but were too hot and hungry to scour the park's entire acreage and found neither the boulder nor the other sports facilities. In fact, our excursion was one of weird isolation. After passing the baseball game, we ran into only a handful of people the rest of the way. And on a hot summer's day, the way seemed long.
Speaking of odd, we did come across a little two-dimensional amphitheater. According to Broadway World – a website I'm pretty sure I've never before cited on this blog – there was a free screening of Yogi Bear at the ribbon-cutting in August 2015. And a free yoga lesson for children. Yogi and yoga: coincidence? I think not. The mysteries multiply at Soundview Park.
All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media