This piece is by the Travelin’ Cousins, a little blog about the travel adventures of a couple of cousins.
by Elisa Valentino
July 12, 2019 (originally published on May 3, 2019)
A little known fact about The Bronx is that it is the greenest of all the five New York City boroughs.
While many people have a view of The Bronx as a strictly urban setting made up a plethora of stores, apartment buildings, small business, and its bustling and busy streets, this northernmost city borough is comprised of outdoor park space that accounts for 25% of the land.
With no lack of options to commune with nature, embrace your inner athlete and fitness enthusiast or indulge in a little rest and relaxation on the cool, fragrant grass, Bronx Parks are more than they appear to be, possessing an interesting history and characteristics that are part of the fabric of this alluring city destination.
1. Home to the Largest New York City Park
Manhattan borough’s Central Park gets all the recognition and glory, but Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx is the largest park in New York City. At 2,772 acres, this outdoor green oasis rivals Central Park at three times as big.
With an abundance of activities for nature lovers, cultural buffs and young and old alike, the park is home to miles of bridle paths and hiking trails, Orchard Beach, the Bartow-Pell Mansion, two golf courses, playgrounds and a breathtaking 13-mile saltwater shoreline that hugs Long Island Sound.
2. Fascinating, Historic Grounds
There is an immense and rich history to the lands that have been transformed into the beautiful public parks of The Bronx.
Take for instance Pelham Bay Park. Before its creation, the land comprising the current park was part of Anne Hutchinson’s short-lived New Netherland dissident colony. After its destruction in 1643, Englishman, Thomas Pell purchased 50,000 acres of the land in 1654 from the Siwanoy land which would become known as Pelham Manor.
During the American Revolutionary War, this land would act as a buffer between British-held New York City and rebel-held Westchester, serving as the site of the Battle of Pell’s Point, where Massachusetts militia hiding behind stone walls (still visible at one of the park’s golf courses) stopped a British advance.
Van Cortlandt Park is another home with a rich history. The third-largest New York City park, at 1,146 acres, was originally owned by John Barrett, and sold to Jacobus Van Cortlandt, two time mayor of New York City, in around 1691. His son Frederick built the Van Cortlandt House on the property, which would later be designated an historic landmark. Additionally, the land was used during the Revolutionary War when the continental army unit of mostly native Americans, the Stockbridge militia, was destroyed by the Queen’s Rangers, a loyalist military unit.
Then there is the history of Crotona Park, the land from which was acquired by the city of New York from the Andrew Bathgate Estate in 1888. Known at the time as “Bathgate Woods,” the park was already famous for its views, its trees, and its pond. The park was renamed by a Parks Department engineer, after Croton, an ancient Greek colony famed for its Olympic athletes. Croton is also the name of the old New York City aqueduct.
3. Trees and Natural Species Galore
The 127.5 acre Crotona Park, not only contains a 3.3-acre lake and the Bronx’s largest swimming pool, but it is also home to 28 species of trees! A sanctuary of rolling grass, lofty trees, Crotona Park is the largest park in the South Bronx and the sixth largest in the borough.
At the heart of the park is Indian Lake, a name that is believed to have been given by local youths who resided in the area in the late 1800s. Surrounding the lake stand native tulip, black cherry, hickory, sassafras, sweetgum, and twenty-three other species, including specimens that have flourished for more than a century.
Some of the most majestic and diverse trees in all of New York City, Crotona Park is full of natural beauty and according to NYC Parks website, “when first settled, the area around Indian Lake was said to have some of the finest forest habitat downstate.”
4. Bronx Park Had The First-Ever “Recycled Plastic Bottle” Pier
Located on the East River waterfront in the Hunts Point is Barretto Point Park was referred to as “a secret oasis in the Bronx” by The New York Times and is also home to the Tiffany Street Pier.
The pier actually predates the park and was not officially part of the park until 2001. Previously used as a loading dock before earning a reputation as a refuge for for local residents and recreational fishermen, the pier was rebuilt by the city in 1995 out of an innovative material produced from 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles.
This new and inventive hard plastic structure was able to withstand damage caused by wood boring marine insects, destructive to wood. However, the plastic was not impervious to heat and a year later, it incurred major damage when a lightning melted a third of the pier.
Reopened in 2000, the new pier was built with more resilient materials but retains the same design as its plastic predecessor.
5. Ecologically Diverse Wildlife and Fauna
Hard to believe, but Bronx Park is not only the natural habitat for a myriad of plants and wildlife stretching along The Bronx River, but it likewise houses two of the most iconic venues in all of New York City.
Both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens are part of the vastness that comprises this ecologically divergent and expansive space. The two-mile stretch of The Bronx River in Bronx Park flows through its riverbanks surroundings of red maple hardwood swamp inhabited by fish, birds and invertebrates, which is paradise for any nature lover, as well as recreation areas that include bicycle paths, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields.
Varied species in Bronx Park include Benthic macroinvertebrates, which include insects, worms, bivalves and crustaceans; more than 30 species of fish, including striped bass and river herring; Amphibians, Reptiles and Mammals that include muskrats, snapping turtles, salamanders, as well as plankton.
Elisa Valentino is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of Travelin’ Cousins travel blog and The Bronx Traveler for HeartoftheBronx.com. A native New Yorker, Fordham graduate, and world traveler, she is passionate about The Bronx as a travel destination for locals and tourists.
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