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Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XIX, Number 4172
Monday, Aug 16, 2004

THE GROUNDBREAKING SCOOP A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

The Bronx River, New York City’s only freshwater river, marks and meanders through a corridor of ecological and recreational resources. Parks & Recreation, in partnership with myriad caring and responsible organizations like the Bronx River Alliance (BxRA), is committed to protecting and enhancing the eight miles of river in the Bronx. Since 1997, over $70 million in Federal, State and City funds have been allocated to projects to improve parks and greenways along the Bronx River.

As early as the 19th century, open space advocates dismayed by pollution in the Bronx River recognized the value in the natural diversity of the portion of the undeveloped corridor abutting the Bronx River and fought to vest it as City property, protected from development, for public use. In 1888, a 662-acre parcel of land was mapped and, requiring no capital improvements, became Bronx Park—a natural preserve intended to buffer development on either side of the Bronx River. Since then the park and river followed a more gloomy evolutionary path than the one originally envisioned, as highways and other developments paved the borough and scarred the park; for most of the 20th century, the river corridor sustained the abuses of industry, neglect and dumping. It is now recovering and flourishing.

Just as the river flows through the Bronx, connecting neighborhoods and people along its route, it has connected independent groups commonly interested in improving the health of the river corridor and in creating the Bronx River Greenway—a linear park with a bike/pedestrian path that will stretch the full eight-mile length of the New York City portion of the river and connect to the Westchester greenway. Parks & Recreation has adopted a vision plan for capital improvements developed in collaboration with multiple community-based organizations, including the BxRA, Rocking the Boat, The Point, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and the Fannie Lou Hamer High School, as well as other governmental agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, State Department of Transportation, Department of State, Department of City Planning, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard.

As a result of collective and collaborative imagination, dedication, fundraising and hard work, over a dozen capital projects on the Bronx River corridor are currently underway in various stages of development, with more on the horizon. These projects, arrived at only through the innovative efforts of groups supporting each other, aim to reverse the effects of encroachment and pollution while providing modern amenities and enriching the ecological and recreational resources of the landscape, resources recognized centuries ago.

Bronx Park originally became a park because capital improvements were not thought necessary. Ironically it is now being revitalized through capital construction. Supported the Parks & Recreation Bronx Borough Office, led by Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, and the Natural Resources Group (NRG), led by Bill Tai, the Bronx Team at Capital Projects, led by Ray Gomez, broke ground earlier this month on a project intended to restore beneficial functions of the floodplain forest and the river channel in the Bronx River Forest (between Kazimiroff Boulevard and the Bronx River Parkway). NRG’s staff conducted copious research on the river, applied for and was awarded a State grant, which, matched by Mayoral monies, will fund the restoration of a natural drainage system and redirect flooding from pedestrian paths to the river’s original floodplain. This ¾-mile stretch of river, whose banks will be cleared of invasive knotweed, has suffered from the cumulative impact of hydrologic disturbances originating upstream in the watershed. Both human alterations to the river channel (which was relocated and straightened) and construction within the Bronx Forest have limited the river’s capacity to respond to these upstream disturbances. Resident Engineer Brian Taylor will supervise the completion of this environmentally constructive project anticipated next spring.

Last month Parks & Recreation broke ground at a spot on the river at Lafayette Avenue after extensive, interactive scope meetings and design reviews facilitated by Executive Director of the BxRA, Linda Cox and attended by Parks & Recreation Landscape Architects and representatives from all of the community organizations invested in the river. On Monday, July 19 Mayor Bloomberg participated in the ceremony for the $3,270,000 project, which will result in the creation of Hunt’s Point Riverside Park by next spring. The design, by Parks & Recreation Landscape Architects George Bloomer, Nancy Prince and Aleksandra Szefke, emphasizes green open space and offers access to waterfront related activities. The 1.4-acre park’s perimeter will be defined by ornamental fencing, inside a fishing and recreational pier with a floating dock. The river shoreline will be protected with a reconstructed bulkhead, rip-rap stones, an intertidal gravel beach where small boats can have egress and enter and native and ornamental species planting. Resident Engineer Joseph Burke will supervise construction until completion, when community organizations will begin active programming.

There are also multiple projects in the design phase now. One remarkable project will transform an abandoned cement mixing plant into a park, inverting the former ratio of permeable to impermeable ground on the site from approximately 75 percent concrete to 75 percent grass and plantings. This will reduce runoff of polluted water into the river by 75 percent. NRG has already reclaimed portions of the tract for vegetative native species propagation. Landscape Architect Frank Strauch’s plans accommodate the ultimate in alternative transportation, enabling train riders to use bikes to reach a kayak launch. The park will offer seating for an outdoor classroom requested by nearby schools, while remediating the ecological devastation committed during the site’s industrial past. Parks & Recreation Engineers and Landscape Architects, navigating the extensive extra-agency approval and permitting process required when working at sensitive areas like the waterfront, are developing plans that break new ground in municipal environmentally friendly design as they explore supplying the park with alternative energy sources from wind, solar and water power. According to Bronx Design Director Jim Mituzas, "We took our cues from the grassroots organizations we met with in the early stages of design, whose intensity and passion for reclaiming bypassed land was inspirational." 

Written by Adrian Sas

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"Irreverence is the champion of liberty
and its only sure defense."

Mark Twain

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