April 10, 2010
Explorations~High Bridge Park
When you’re a freelance theater artist, you can often wind up with a very atypical and erratic work schedule. Like this winter and early spring, I’ve been doing a lot of work for Juilliard on a 3:00-10:00 PM schedule, leaving my entire mid-morning free. When I’ve worked a whole day and get home exhausted at 6 or 7 PM and it’s dark and cold out, I’m fine with fixing dinner, cleaning the apartment or other petty chores and curling up in my room with a drink to surf the internet or catch up on TV before bed. But that’s no way to spend a gorgeous spring morning if you don’t have to go to work till 3:00.
So one of the things I’ve loved doing with my morning hours is seeking out places in Manhattan, and beyond, that I haven’t yet made myself familiar with in the five years I’ve lived here.
When I decided that I was moving here, I feel like my family thought I was nuts–being a very introverted person who treasures quiet and nature and open spaces–because a lot of people, when they think of Manhattan, automatically think of Times Square, or Macy’s and the midtown area, or 5th Avenue. But most of New York City actually isn’t anything like that at all, and there are some uniquely charming, stunningly beautiful places here.
Today, my AEA day off from rehearsal for my current project, is a bright, sunny, blustery day which I wanted to be spending exploring Inwood Hill Park, at the northern tip of Manhattan, but alas, I’m at home fighting off debilitating monthly cramps with large quantities of coffee and Irish cream and ibuprofen. Heating pads have never worked much for me, but the warmth of the Macbook on my lap is nice and soothing nonetheless. So that’s why I’m home on a gorgeous day off, blogging about a trip to the park instead of being there. This was my fascinating but slightly heartrending field trip to High Bridge Park on a nice morning in March a couple weeks ago:
High Bridge Park is named for the bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx which once carried the city’s fresh water supply along the Croton Aqueduct by gravity from north of the city. It runs for about 30 blocks along the north-eastern corner of Manhattan. I started walking south from around 178th St. along the Harlem River.
Walking through some of New York’s lesser-known parks can be a saddening experience. NYC has a huge amount of park space to take care of, so the Parks Commission has its hands full to begin with, and I’m sure that between the recession and both city and state budget crises, they have to make some difficult decisions on priorities. Additionally, Central Park suffered massive damage in a brief but fierce summer storm of a type known as a “microburst” last year, which they’re still cleaning up, and which I imagine will continue to be a drag on budgets for months still to come.
The result can be neglect for parks in less-traveled, and frankly, lower-income areas.
High Bridge has lovely architecture and landscaping–bridges, arches, tunnels, curving paths and steep winding stairways, old-fashioned street lamps. But some of it is just in terrible shape. Lamps are broken and gutted and look like they have been for quite some time. I actually saw one street lamp with a thick clump of moss growing where its bulb should be. Stonework is covered in graffiti. Fallen trees and branches laid thickly across paths, and probably not from one of the most recent storms, either, as there were crocuses coming up deep in the depressions left by upended root bulbs.
Call me cynical; I just have a hard time believing that conditions like this in someplace like Central Park would be let go for very long. I hope I just happened to hit High Bridge in an unusually neglected pocket, or that springtime cleanup wasn’t underway yet.
There’s a nice walking/biking trail overlooking the Harlem River, though. And the jewel of the park is the High Bridge water tower, which once upon a time was used to control water pressure across High Bridge itself.
I was disappointed not to be able to go up inside it; it’s locked up. Currently you can’t walk across High Bridge itself, either, though it was once a popular promenade for walkers and bikers. It was closed to traffic after a couple of rock-throwing incidents in the 1970’s, but word is that plans are underway to refurbish and reopen the walkway to the public in 2011, for which I am extremely excited.