One of NYC's most magical natural areas is all but unknown to most residents of the city's cosmopolitan core. The nature trail through the Marine Park Salt Marsh in southern Brooklyn takes you through an environment as different from Manhattan's urban hubbub as you can imagine.
Restored salt marshes can be found elsewhere in the city, for example on Randall's Island/Ward's Island and in Inwood Hill Park. The city even has a Salt Marsh Alliance, headquartered at the on-site Nature Center here. But nowhere else in the five boroughs, that I know of, can you take a lengthy walk through a large salt marsh environment.
There are watery vistas to be seen from the Marine Park Salt Marsh Nature Trail. After all, this is New York City, with its purported 578 miles of coastline. (I don't disbelieve that figure, but I've never pinned down who came up with it or how it was derived.)
Mostly, though, you're ensconced in flora as you trek along the sandy trail.
Exertion-wise, it's an easy hike.
But bring water, sunscreen, and a hat. You'll be exposed to the elements without a break. The sunshine can be roasting-hot even in the fall, as on this October day.
Birdwatchers can rejoice at the edges of the water.
And if you look hard enough you can find some color amid the grasslands.
The southern spur of the salt marsh grounds can get very muddy. We didn't explore too far down that way.
This dog and owner were more adventurous.
Perhaps there's an opportunity here for a venturesome seaweed-farming entrepreneur.
The Salt Marsh Alliance website tells us that over the decades, more than three quarters of Jamaica Bay's original salt marsh has been filled – that is, destroyed – to make way for homes and industry. The Marine Park Salt Marsh, once "a wasteland filled with trash and abandoned cars," is now "restored to its natural condition – proof that a rare and fragile ecosystem can safely exist" even adjacent to an urban one.
Located in the middle of the inlet is Mau Mau Island, which you can see from the Nature Trail. It has an interesting history. Untapped Cities explains that this man-made isle was a trash dump. When Robert Moses covered it with sand, then asphalt, he unintentionally initiated the gradual natural restoration of a piece of the Jamaica Bay coast's grassland habitat.
Maybe more people from outside the neighborhood would visit if the subway came down this far. But Marine Park's relative isolation is probably a blessing for the salt marsh environment, and for the pristine atmosphere you feel on its lonesome walkways.
(However, you can get to Mau Mau Island via the A Train and a boat if you get a gang together, dress in costumes, and join up with the Battle for Mau Mau Island flotilla. But that's a story from an alternate universe.)
All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media