Festival brings residents to Harlem River shore

Carlton Curry and his daughter Carleta sat on the lawn at Mill Pond Park watching a hawk displayed by the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy against a backdrop of a teepee, with the Harlem River beyond.

“We need more events like this, a lot of events,” Curry said.

Children play in display canoes at the Harlem River Festival. Photo by Lisha Arino

Ferry rides and bike and hike tours promote river access

Carlton Curry and his daughter Carleta sat on the lawn at Mill Pond Park watching a hawk displayed by the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy against a backdrop of a teepee, with the Harlem River beyond.

“We need more events like this, a lot of events,” Curry said.

As he spoke, children ran around the lawn, some playing in and around the teepee, while others found two canoes on display and climbed in, pretending to paddle. Over at the picnic area, thirsty visitors drank bottles of ice-cold water, and ate burgers fresh off the grill.

Isabel Vera was also enjoying her day in the park. As she stood under the shade of the outdoor classroom, she said, “Especially, I’m impressed with the grass.” Other parks she visits only have dirt, she said.

The first Harlem River Festival on Sept. 25 brought the Currys, Vera, and other residents to the recently-completed park at 153rd Street and Exterior Street, across the Major Deegan Expressway from the Gateway mall.

The event was hosted by the Harlem River Working Group, “a coalition of about 40 community organizations around or working with the Harlem River,” said Chauncy Young, one of the event’s organizers. Members include: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., the National Park Service, Partnerships for Parks, Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, Friends of Brook Park, Friends of the Woods and the Harlem River Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy.

Dart Westphal, a board member of the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality, said the group’s goals are to raise awareness about efforts to create a greenway along the river, to make the river cleaner and to increase public access to it.

In addition to the hawk talk, the day’s activities included tennis lessons, a mobile ecology museum and entertainment by local performers.

Activities were not confined to the park—built on 10 acres of an abandoned industrial site as one of the replacements for the parkland gobbled up by the new Yankee Stadium.

Festivities kicked off with two guided tours in the morning: cyclists rode from Randall’s Island to the park, while pedestrians met at Highbridge Park on the Bronx side of the High Bridge and made their way down to Mill Pond Park.

The festival was capped by an hour-long ferryboat tour of the river, courtesy of NY Waterways. A member of the Bronx Historical Society narrated the tour, giving riders the historical and geological context of various landmarks.

Jacqueline Christian said she found the festival’s events, especially the river tour, “very informative and educational.” In her 33 years in the Bronx, she said, she had never been on the Harlem river from the Bronx side.

“I’m just sorry that that they couldn’t have more of these rides,” she said.

A few local politicians also attended.

“This festival here, I think, is a wonderful celebration, not only of the Harlem River, but of the parks along the way and why we need to expand them,” said State Senator Jose M. Serrano. He was with his family, including his father, Congressman Jose E. Serrano.

Along with Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, they affirmed their commitment to creating more green spaces and increasing boating access to the river.

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of the Mott Haven Herald.

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