Morgan Powell is a landscape designer who edits Bronx River Sankofa on You Tube and Facebook. He is passionate about New York’s Bronx River and its African American heritage. Here is Morgan’s second submission in a three-part series to highlight the generous yet delicate resource of the Bronx River:
I’ve just taken my fellow Whole Communities alumni Audrey and Frank Peterman’s challenge to enjoy my local natural treasures. The Petermans wrote the Outdoor Afro classic Legacy on the Land. I saw a vast natural place outside of my normal travel patterns both arresting in beauty and historic that has taken me over a decade to visit from the time I first learned of it. If you live in a big city or suburb of one, there are bound to be places like this near you too! Here’s my story.
You are about to re – live my path to discovery of a wonderfully designed walking/ biking path in Westchester, NY from the Metro-North commuter train station of Hartsdale to the august Kensico Dam in Valhalla, NY. For those who wish to explore these riverfront paths on their own, I am including a second section at the very end of this blog for the other long Bronx River Path beginning in suburban Bronxville, NY and concluding in the village of Scarsdale with a rest break at Crestwood, NY (4.6 miles). First, however, I’m going to summarize my route to this journey. Are you ready?
Helping to rehabilitate paths and the ecological vitality of New York City’s only fresh water river has been a joyous pass-time of mine since 1993 shortly after I graduated from high school in the Bronx, New York. A group on which our federal AmeriCorps and Vista are modeled for young adult public service got me into the game. Our group was called the City Volunteer Corps and all that’s left today is an alumni group on facebook…along with this reminiscence.
Like many working class minority individuals growing up in an urban area that had only recently seen white flight, I lacked many social connections to my local civic fabric because so many of the pillars of the community were packing up and leaving throughout my teens without connecting with/ grooming successors among the incoming Latino/ African-American/ Asian population. I got involved with park stewardship despite that and this is how it happened!
Like AmeriCorps, the City Volunteer Corps was devoted largely to human service and open space maintenance and development. My peers and I learned and grew in our service. I even discovered that a waterway in my backyard – majestic as it rolled through the New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo – was being cared for in ways I had never known.
My team members and I once spent two weeks doing maintenance chores along that Bronx River; it validated my neighborhood for me to know that folks had been quietly stewarding this local geologic and watery gem with all its gorges and overflow basins, through water quality tests, park development and more.
Almost a decade passed where my attention had turned to college and making a living until the New York Times published a long illustrated story featuring almost three decades of Bronx River stewardship beginning shortly after Earth Day’s inauguration. Oh, how I red “A River Rises” on December 3, 2000 with wrapped attention! I would later discover on my own that a number of African Americans had each dedicated many years to the effort including Marcel Woolery Sr. and Jr. (seasonal foreman and treasurer), Jessie Collins (former Bronx River Art Center chairwoman currently leading the Friends of Haffen Park, Bronx),
Charles Vasser (Bronx Council for Environmental Quality board member and a founder of the Bronx River Alliance), David Shuffler (Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice Executive Director), Diane Sargent (Chairperson of the Bronx Greenway Committee and Plan), Nessie Panton (River [community] Garden advocate) and Majora Carter (whom I am shown below with) to name a few.
My research since then can be found as interviews, essays and digital tour guides on YouTube and Facebook with a search for “Bronx River Sankofa.” The word Sankofa comes from the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to “go back and get it.” Many groups of African descent use this word and symbol to describe the journey of drawing strength and wisdom from the past in order to move forward. Enjoy!
I’ll never stop marveling at one thing that stands out from over a decade re-united with other river stewards within city limits. The only African – Americans I EVER met who seemed to know the suburban sections of our river and its trails seemed to have come to such knowledge through paid work. I’m just saying, aren’t folks curious? We walk/ bike/ canoe/ clean it for miles within city limits and all know it starts in Westchester to the north as we see it flow to us in the south. And there actually have been hundreds of local volunteers over the years so why the disconnect and what have we been missing? The first part of that question would require interviews. The question’s end was easy to answer with a commuter train trip that began just ten minutes walk from my apartment. I can say without hyperbole that it was a journey in jubilance and may be even more so during fall foliage show time. Discover the Bronx river trails in the related links section below. Would you like musical accompaniment? Try anything from the Terence Blanchard Quintet! Here’s the fast version of this spectacular five-mile walk to the Kensico Dam which was built above the springs that becomes the Bronx River. That’s right, over 5 % of NYC drinking water is of Bronx River origin.
– arrived at Hartsdale Station in time for the farmers market there (June to November Saturdays 8a.m. to 3p.m.)
– see blog post end for dining options surrounding the Hartsdale Station
– entered the trail less than thirty yards from the train station just over a small stone bridge to the east
– encountered the relatively new cell phone audio tour guide’s Stop no.14: Duckpond/ Haubolt Gunpowder Mill and kept in mind that an existing mill building from 1805 stands down river in Tuckahoe that processed cotton in pre – Civil War days
– enjoyed the natural Gothic arches of the woodland trail
– found pleasant apertures offering views of local neighborhoods along the walk
– enjoyed Revolutionary War Battle Hill monument at White Plains
– appreciated the opportunity to break for a snack and rest in downtown White Plains
– was humbled by the simple beauty of a rustic fence and stone framing of a path
– loved every original Bronx River Parkway stone bridge along the way from the 1910s and 1920s
– found great satisfaction in arriving at the Kensico Dam
– learned so much by reading commemorative carvings atop the dam wall from 1925 including:
“He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the frost like ashes”
“He covereth the heavens with clouds: he prepareth rain for the earth”
“He causeth his wind to blow and the waters to flow”
“He maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.”
“This work was planned in 1897 and begun June 9, 1905 with the appointment of the commissioners of the Board of Water Supply exactly four months thereafter October 9, 1905. A map plan and estimate of cost of a complete project calling for the delivery of 500 million gallons of water daily from the Catskill Mountains was made to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Sod was turned for the first contract on June 20, 1907 and on December 27, 1915 the first delivery of water was made from the Ashokan Reservoir to the City of New York.”
You can learn more about the Bronx River Walk at www.FRIENDSOFWESTCHESTERPARKS.com where you may also download their tour to an iPod. Now it’s time for your adventure. What new adventures do you want to take?
Discover Audrey and Frank Peterman’s work here!
Explore more NYC Bronx African American history here!
Find Bronx, NY trails at www.bronxriver.org
Let Terence Blanchard provide your soundtrack for this walk/ bike along the Bronx River.
Learn more here about the Kensico Dam!
Dining just outside the Hartsdale train station (zip code 10530)
Juice and Java
201 East Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 472 – 6916
Vega Mexican Cuisine
187 – 189 Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 723 – 0010
Masala Kraft Cafe (Asian Indian)
206 E. Hartsdale Avenue 914-722-4300
Amendola’s Pizza Tratoria
203 E. Hartsdale Avenue 914-722-2666
BosphoRus; Healthy Turkish Mediterranean Restaurant
213 – 215 East Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 722 – 2000
Hunan Village II (Traditional Chinese Restaurant)
222 East Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 472 – 3838
Azuma – Sushi (Japanese)
219 E. Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 725 – 0660
B & M Bagels and More: New york Bakery and Deli
224 East Hartsdale Avenue 914 – 722 – 4444
Tour Section II: Bronxville to Scarsdale, NY (4.6 miles)
Both of these communities have commuter rail stations with parking available via Metro-North Railroad.
Want to stock up on travel snacks and water or have a light meal/ snack? Here are some options very near the Bronxville train station:
Brother’s Fruit and Vegetable 38 Palmer Ave. 914-337-7003
Lange’s Delicatessen 94 Pondfield Road 914-337-DELI (3354)
Swizzles Frozen Yogurt 102 Kraft Avenue 914-793-1100
The Paths you walk/bike/roller blade here are part of the Bronx River Parkway Reservation established to maintain the multi – modal Bronx River Parkway completed in City Beautiful style back in 1925. The civic boosters of the day were as concerned with design quality and the harmony of the project with the surrounding residential fabric as they were with getting the public around in newly popular automobiles. For context, not many people had cars then and driving was as likely to be a weekend pass-time as conventional sports are today among the upper crust. The speed limit was below 40 miles per hour and large tracts of lawn, winding walking paths, picturesque ponds and custom designed stone bridges are the norm here.
Enter the path along Palmer Avenue which is easy to identify because it’s the singular road that runs under the train tracks at the station. You’ll find it to the west of the station easily because the mature forest of the parkway makes a big statement in the near distance from the tracks. A stone bridge crosses the river within about two blocks and clear signage and a flower patch signal the entrance to the Bronx River Path several yards before the vehicular road which all indicate you have arrived. You’ll feel your pride in America as you see that this forested right of way could only have been laid out by a generation that foresaw a life of active and natural recreation for their successors. There’s a big difference between this route and the one described above — you’re usually walking just a foot or two above the water line unlike the extensive high gorges of the Hartsdale to Kensico section, although you’ll get a little of that experience too later on beyond the village of Crestwood.
Soon, you will come upon Bronxville Lake made to look like a Corot painting with a perimeter of Alder trees accompanied by a poetically placed group of mature willows. Further still, you’ll pass near the Tuckahoe train station and an 1805 stone mill on the river originally built to process cotton when enslaved Africans were the dominant harvesters. You can’t help but pause here and reflect. The immaculately kept grounds here announce how much has changed since then; the mill is now an Italian restaurant! Many other mills processing a variety of goods like gun powder, etc. are to be appreciated today only by their man-made waterfalls.
Enjoy cooling vapor as you pass these early industrial relics and the soothing sound of falling water. Do you enjoy the diversity of forests? Here are some trees you’ll see along your journey:
Alder Black cherry
Black willow American elm
Redbud Dogwood varieties
Oak varieties Red maple
Beech Norway maple
Sassafras Sweet gum
Birch White pine
Eastern hemlock London plane
Tulip tree Sycamore maple
Recently replanted areas hold clusters of native plants. Look for the red-fruited winterberry, olive-like foliage in inkberry, happy-making petals of black- eyed susan meadows and more! Consider moving a little slower in the stretch just beyond Cretswood station and smell the white pine grove. I put their cones to my nostrils and rediscover peace as a gift from the woods.
Toward the end of your trip is an exceptional stretch called Garth Woods which has it’s own highly active and effective friends group. The river is widest here of any place in Westchester outside of the dam-induced lakes and some sections have an appearance similar to the Schuylkill River so glorious at the edge of Philadelphia.
This journey is all about the water. Tune into the water, the trees, the day time wildlife (cotton tailed rabbits, chipmunks, ducks and other birds) and zone into nature’s meditation. The sun’s reflection off the water alone along the multiple gentle rapids will elevate whatever mood you arrive with!
Dining in Scarsdale:
Villa Roma Pizzaria & Restaurant 8 Depot Place (southbound side of train station) 914-472-4848
Go Greenly frozen yogurt 58 Garth Woods 914-722-2026
Tengda Asian Bistro 56 Garth Road 914-723-8868