When I’m not working on my next workshop idea or helping clients choose (or make) healthier household products, I’m off in the wild. The wild of the city that is. Recently we (my boyfriend & I) experienced a series of local excursions of note all around the city. There is an urban wilderness to be found out there and I’ll be sharing more of my explorations as I experience them. Stay tuned!
Inwood Hill Park
This 196.4 acre wild park at the uppermost tip of Manhattan holds the last forest (Oak-Beech-Hickory) of its kind on the island, as well as the last salt marsh.
Out to the river, out to the sea
We were amazed by both the unkemptness (in a good way) of the park, as well as its proximity to the Westside Highway (we had to traverse it twice, both times via tunnel). We heard many uncommon (to our ears) bird calls and upon encountering a couple of birders, learned there were kinglets and black-capped chickadees in our midst. NYC boasts a diversity of wildlife way beyond the grey squirrel (and black & albino varieties) and pigeon. Check out this great article by Robert Sullivan to learn more.
Another thing NYC has that might surprise people is some great foraging finds. We spotted a chicken-of-the-woods from the path and without much hesitation (possibly) broke the park rules by hightailing it up the side of a hill to check it out (and grab enough fungi for 4 meals!).
From the woods we could see the salt marsh below. The marsh meets the Spuyten Duyvil (for the most part, the East River) before it heads out to the Hudson. Sea gulls and other wading birds seemingly lounge about, scooping up crustaceans and fish during low tide.
In the visitor center, one of the rangers showed us a flounder and striped bass that were caught in the marsh the day prior. They also had turtles, snakes, and walking sticks, all native to the area.
Marshy marshy marshy
To get to Inwood Hill Park, take the A to Dyckman St (200 St) or 207th St or the 1 to 207th St (10th Ave) and walk west. You can’t miss it!
Brooklyn Navy Yard
Open House NY (OHNY) is a free annual event that introduces otherwise closed off parts of NYC to residents and tourists alike. Our first OHNY excursion was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
What was once an active port is now home to artists, fabricators, industrial companies, and film set builders.
After checking out an art exhibit, we wandered around a bit (until we got “caught” by security). It’s a bit like wandering through an abandoned town, albeit a bit more maintained.
on the waterfront
Visiting the Brooklyn Navy Yard seems to be a tricky venture. You can visit during Open House events like we did, or if you’re interested in leasing space, you could probably make an appointment to get inside. Otherwise, you can stand outside the gate, staring in longingly. To the south of the visitor’s gates, you can get a glimpse of the decaying old Officer’s Row residences in the yard. A great way to see how nature takes over when we don’t interfere. Directions to the Navy Yard.
Noshing nearby: If you’re peckish and up for a little walk, check out Vinegar Hill House. Delicious!
Newtown Creek Digester Eggs
After eating a tasty and fitting omelet breakfast at Williamsburg’s Egg, we hightailed it to the Newtown Creek’s digester eggs.
From digesting eggs to digester eggs
If you’ve ever looked across the East River to Brooklyn from the midtown Manhattan side (east), then you’ve seen the giant silver orbs that are the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment facility’s anaerobic digester “eggs.” I didn’t really think of them as beautiful until I got upclose & personal with the eggs at a recent tour (another OHNY event). We actually got to go to the top of the shiny lovelies to learn more about their function from one of the employees.
Here are a few fun facts about the facility & eggs:
- Each egg (there are 8 of them) weighs 33 million lbs. They were manufactured in Texas, shipped to New Jersey, and piece-by-piece transported over the George Washington Bridge over 4.5 months. The eggs were assembled on site as they received each piece
- The eggs utilize anaerobic bacteria to digest sewage. Three million cubic feet of methane is one of the byproducts of this anaerobic process. Only 20% of this methane is used to heat the plant. The rest is currently burned off (in carbon filtered cylinders). The facility is in talks with National Grid to channel this methane back into the grid. (Keep your fingers crossed!)
- The facility currently handles 240 million gallons of wastewater per dry day, 500 million gallons on a wet day, and when the facility is fully complete, it will handle 700 million gallons per day at its max
- Wastewater enters the facility at 150 parts per million of pollutants and leaves at 15 to 20 ppm, an 85% reduction in pollutants (which apparently exceeds the EPA standard)
To learn more about what happens to the water that we flush down the toilet, sink, or shower, check out this fact sheet about wastewater treatment in NYC.
The view from the top
To get to Newtown Creek visitor center – which is open to school groups on Tuesdays & Thursdays and the general public on Fridays & Saturdays – take the G train to Greenpoint Ave. Use the Greenpoint/Manhattan Ave exit. Walk along Greenpoint Avenue one long block east and cross McGuinness Blvd. Continue on Greenpoint Ave to the next traffic light and cross Provost. The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will be on your left. Follow the fence-line and continue walking until you reach the main gate to the plant, at a traffic light on Humboldt St.
I also highly recommend the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, which runs along the East River and includes native plantings and insightful sculpture work.
Green-Wood has been on my list of places to visit for a while. And on this past super-sunny Sunday, away we went to the famed cemetery. We walked from our apartment (stopping for brunch at the yummy Thistle Hill Tavern on the way) to the gates at 25th St & 5th Ave (a 2.5 mile walk).
The light was intense & dreamy as we made our way around the windy pathways, stopping to admire the graves of people like Louis Comfort Tiffany & William “Boss” Tweed.
My favorite grave marker was that of Peter Cooper (of Cooper Union fame). It’s an amazingly thought-out memorial, including all of Mr. Cooper’s achievements, a poem by Joaquin Miller, as well as his wife Sarah Bedell’s epitaph.
Peter Cooper's amazing epitaph
Patriot, philanthropist, sage
Peace on the dim Plutonian shore
Aside from the interred humans of note, there are some stunning tree specimens throughout the 478-acre cemetery. It’s also home to at least one very large hawk, a growing flock of wild parrots, and it’s a stopping-off point for many migrating birds as well.
To get to Green-Wood Cemetery, take the R train to 25th St in Brooklyn. Walk east one block to Green-Wood at 5th Ave and 25th St. (There are also entrances at 9th Ave & 20th St and on Fort Hamilton Ave, though not as grand as the main entrance.)
Watch this space for more city-centric adventures!