Pelham Bay Park
A hawk flashes its bright red tail feathers as it wheels over Long Island Sound; an earthy scent rises from the great salt marsh; a muskrat hides in the tall grass. When most New Yorkers think of Pelham Bay Park, they think of Orchard Beach. But this park- the largest in the city at 2,764 acres-has much more to offer lovers of nature. Pelham has one of the most diverse groups of ecosystems of any New York City park, including 13 miles of rocky shoreline, 195 acres of saltwater wetland, 161 acres of mud flats, 520 acres of forest, and 83 acres of meadow.
Pelham has both grassy meadows and wet meadows as well as three acres of freshwater wetlands. Pelham provides textbook examples of the zones of a salt marsh: high marsh, flooded only by the highest tides- once or twice a month- or by severe storms; inter-tidal marsh, flooded twice daily at high tides; and mud flats, barren expanses of mud and silt flushed regularly by the tides. When you visit Pelham, be sure to stop by the Nature Center on Twin Island and take a walk on the Kazimiroff Nature Trail on Hunter Island, which has two patches of evergreen trees, the only significant stands of conifers in Pelham's 520 acres of forest. Hunter is also home to a mature native forest of oak, black birch, and tulip trees. In fact, if you look closely at the woodlands of Hunter, you can see the story of how plant species replace one another. Sun-loving plants colonize open meadows, but the shade they cast prevents their own seedlings from growing. Slightly more tolerant shrubs begin to grow, and shrub land replaces meadow until the shrubs are shaded out by pioneer trees, such as black locust. Finally, the pioneer trees are succeeded by climax forest, that is, species of trees whose seedlings can grow in the shade of the parent. In this part of New York State, oak and hickory dominate climax forests.