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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.