Pelham Bay Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, February 7, 2001


If the beaches were sandy, they were frigid too Sunday, February 4, 2001, when the cold-blooded Polar Bears of New York City ran across them in bare feet. The waves were mild, the temperature 28 degrees Fahrenheit. 15 unflappable polars let out a holler and took the plunge. Waist deep in icy water, they joined hands and stepped ever deeper into the ocean. This was their annual midwinter swim at Orchard Beach, a sister to the New Year's Day swim at Coney Island.

Among the most memorable swimmers were three sisters from New Rochelle, aged 85, 86, and 87. They swim every weekend of the year, and change only the location of the beach. They lingered in the water for 20 minutes, splashing and singing refrains of the Polar Bear song. William (Zorro) Castro, Bronx Borough Commissioner; Linda (Hickory) Dockeray, Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Park Administrator; Robert (Sheriff) P. Reeves, Park Manager and Alfredo Perez, Special Events Coordinator for Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay watched on from the warmth of the shore.

The Polar Bear Club was founded in 1903 by health writer, Bernard McFadden. Their creed: cold water swimming cures the ills of winter living. In Scandinavian style they wade in any weather, dunk in all degrees. They eschew skating, sledding, and cross-country skiing in winter and favor the unlikely choice. Perhaps we'll see them this summer among the 10 million who enjoy New York City's beaches. Or maybe they'll be tubing down a grassy hill and sipping hot chocolate in July.

We can thank Parks Commissioner Robert Moses-the first to hold that title-for the transformation New York City beaches underwent early in the century. According to Moses' biographer, Robert Caro, in the depth of the Depression, there were lifeguards who could only dog paddle, drunks sleeping off a Saturday night in the First Aid stations, and Tammany regulars had claimed the comfort stations as their personal boudoirs. A colony of beachcombers built 600 bungalows along the shore of Orchard Beach and claimed it for themselves. But Robert Moses intervened with characteristic ambition. He tore down the bungalows and barged in 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Queens and New Jersey. Orchard Beach, made magnificent by master builder Moses, now welcomes thousands of sunbathers each summer to its sandy shores and a handful of swimmers in winter.

(Wednesday, February 10, 1988)


Parks has completed a management study of 1,764-acre Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The study, three years in the making, recommends a strategy for preserving and protecting the park's natural assets, which include some of the region's best outdoor expanses, to study geology and plant, animal, and insect life in a saltwater environment.


"An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it."

Robert Bresson (b. 1907)

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

Know Before You Go

Nature Centers
Orchard Beach Nature Center

Orchard Beach Nature Center is closed to the public.

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