Washington Park

The Daily Plant : Friday, September 20, 2002


It's that time of year again. The Little Red Lighthouse Festival is being held tomorrow, Saturday, September 21, from noon to 5:00 p.m. This FREE festival in Fort Washington Park features a fish fry, hay and boat rides, musical performances from Latin jazz to children's favorites, puppet shows, a stilt walker and other circus arts. The extravaganza will have celebrity readings by James Earl Jones, Carol Higgins Clark, and our own Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro of Hildegarde H. Swift's famous children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. The Urban Park Rangers will lead tours of the lighthouse. Children and their families will enjoy craft activities and exhibits by more than 30 nautical and conservationist organizations. Out on the Hudson, swimmers will compete in the fifth annual Little Red Lighthouse Swim. The 7.8 mile race starts under the "Great Gray Bridge" and finishes at Pier 62. To get to the festival via public transportation, New Yorkers can take the A train to 181st Street and walk west to Plaza LaFayette. Then cross the footbridge and take a left down the path beneath the overpass. Cross over the railroad tracks and follow the path to the left, The lighthouse is almost directly under the George Washington Bridge. Have fun at the festival!


This small park between 155th and 158th Streets links two long stretches of public waterfront, Riverside Park and Fort Washington Park, providing continuous parkland along the Hudson River from 145th Street to Manhattan's northern tip.

Parks Commissioner Robert Moses' (1888-1981) West Side Improvement Project (1934-37) involved various city and state agencies in the construction of major public works including the Henry Hudson Parkway, extensions of Riverside Park, and the Henry Hudson Bridge. All the projects were linked. When the New York Central began digging underground tracks to make way for the parkway, the earth and rock they removed was recycled as the landfill for this parkland.

The Department of Ports, International Trade, and Commerce turned this inactive site over to Parks in 1989. The transfer became official the following year, after the Division of Real Property mapped the area as parkland. Prior to Parks' involvement, the vicinity of 156th Street and the Hudson was known as "the Salt" because the Department of Sanitation's salt spreaders used it as a refill station during the winter months. Between the barrage of truck traffic and the abandonment of the waterfront piers, the site was in disrepair. It was a rough dirt road with occasional broken asphalt pavement. Rainwater draining from the road above splashed down directly onto the dirt, causing occasional flooding and leaving eroded gullies crossing the site.
In 1997, just over two million dollars was allocated for the construction of Fort Washington Link. The 1999 project was funded by the City and by a matching grant from the New York State Environmental Quality Bond Act. This riverside improvement is a vital link in the Hudson River Greenway.

In addition to providing unprecedented public access to the waterfront, the new park provides an innovative method for treating non-point source pollution from the roadway above. Non-point source pollution is the most common type of water pollution in the country, and also in the Hudson River. It occurs when toxic materials, floatable debris, and water-borne bacteria wash off urban surfaces -- especially roadways and parking lots -- and flow into the water during rainstorms. At Fort Washington Link, the design includes an underground trench running parallel to the highway's edge. This trench catches rainwater from downspouts and directs it through layers of porous materials, beginning with a layer of rounded gravel and ending with activated charcoal. This filtering process removes pollution, particularly hydrocarbons and oils, before letting the cleansed water flow into the river.

The design mimics the Hudson's native shoreline ecosystem, with meadow grasses and wildflowers, natural boulders of local types of schist and granite stone, and native trees and shrubs. The bike path has a meandering form, encouraging people to appreciate the great views of the river from different angles. There is a portion of the site with a traditional lawn for picnicking or sunbathing. The arrangement and selection of the plantings is intended to support the use of this river corridor by a great variety of wildlife, including the Monarch butterflies which migrate through every fall. The designers aimed to allow the plantings eventually to seed themselves and spread over the lawns, making the parkland self-sustainable.

''The truth isn't always beauty, but the hunger for it is.''
Nadine Gordimer
(b. 1923)

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