Old Croton Aqueduct State Trail

Despite only walking a section of the Old Croton Aqueduct State Trail less than a mile long, I spent more than 4 hours on it one April morning. A group of over 200 volunteers gathered in Yonkers around a buffet of food to listen to the mayor and various other city officials talk about the importance of maintaining the trail. We could barely understand them over the murmurings of the crowd, though we did hear a shout out to Sarah Lawrence College, even though only three of us came to help with the cleanup.  After the men and women in suits finished speaking, the rest of us took to the trail and the Annual Yonkers Cleanup Day really began. We were all ready to get started on what we were actually there for – making the section of the OCA in Yonkers a more pleasant space.

Dumping problems paralyzes this section of the trail, which spans from Palisade Ave to Prescott St. The trail is seen as a convenient area to get rid of bulky items, such as mattress or reclining chairs. During our cleanup I saw at least two of each, as well as many other interesting items. The biggest problem was the amount of litter – bottles, cigarettes, Styrofoam, plastic plates. With no garbage cans along the pathway, people think that they can just throw their trash anywhere. The worst items were the plastic bags. They were partially decomposed and tore into tiny pieces as we tried to pick them up.

Trash is not the only problem the trail has though, the trees are covered in invasive vines. Like in a lot of the parks I’ve visited in New York, many of the trees have been completely taken over by vines. The Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct have two events planned in the near future, one at the section of the trail in Croton-on-Hudson and the other with a location unspecified, which will focus on weeding out invasive species on the trail. They also encourage people who wish to volunteer to specifically focus on trail cleanup and invasives removal.

Unlike most of the parks I have visited during this project, the trail is not directly on the water. That means that while thinking about how the trail will fare against climate change, rising sea levels are not an important concern. What is a concern is getting rid of invasive species and preventing dumping and littering.

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If the trash in the park continues to be mismanaged that could lead to it getting into the waterways and hurting the marine animals. Cigarette butts, which are prevalent on the trail, are considered toxic waste. They do not biodegrade – the plastic in the filters just breaks down into smaller pieces. The toxins from cigarettes also leach into the water and can kill wildlife. In addition, the park has other waste, like needles, which can become hazards to unsuspecting people whom simply want to enjoy the park. To prevent more damage from occurring on the trail and lessen the effects of climate change, I would encourage the placement of trashcans along the trail. It might also be helpful if the Yonkers Clean Up event occurred more frequently than just once a year.



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Croton Gorge Park

Before beginning this post I want to make it clear that I spent all of ten minutes in this park. I had heard about the park from a friend and, while on a hiking trip the first weekend in April, I finished hiking early and was able to drive over to the park with the extra time before I had to return my rental car. I was able to look around and get some pictures of the New Croton Dam, but I did not get a chance to hike on the trail.

The dam is 200 feet tall and was the first large-scale masonry dam in the US. It was built from 1892-1906 and was originally meant to bring drinking water to New York City, but the needs of NYC soon outgrew the capacity of the dam. To create the dam, the riverbed had to be diverted and dried, then a canal was built to alter the flow of the river. While on top of the dam, one can see the Croton Reservoir, which can hold 34 billion gallons of water. There are many fish in the reservoir, including bass and perch species. Rowboats are allowed on it, but must first be approved by the NY Department of Environmental Protection.

New Croton Dam

When you drive into the park, you immediately get a view of the dam. It’s beautiful with the water cascading off the stones, before flowing under the bridge. On the day I visited, the view was marred slightly by a fenced off spot next to the side of the dam. Across the bridge, there is a wide, open space with plenty of picnic tables, a playground, a baseball field, and bathrooms.

On one side of the field, after flowing off the dam, is the river, which is open for fishing, but not for swimming. Though in many places in the Hudson Valley it is not recommended to eat more than one fish meal per month for men over fifteen and women over 50 due to mercury contamination, the NY Health Department does say it is okay to eat up to four fish meals per month for people of all ages from the New Croton Reservoir as of 2014. It is not safe enough to swim in, though that might have more to do with the river than the water quality.

The wood in Croton Gorge Park

On the other side of the field there is a wood. Like most of the woods I’ve visited in New York, it was covered in vines.  The one trail in the park leads up through the woods to the top of the dam and also connects to the beginning of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (stay tuned for a post about that trail), which stretches 26.2 miles to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. The trail is the only way to reach the top of the dam. There is a road that crosses over the top, but cars have been prohibited to cross it since 9/11. If someone is in a hurry to see the top of the dam, they can park on the side of the road before the blockade and cross on foot, though signs are posted that say parking is not allowed.

Back in the main part of the park there is a fountain, which sometimes is operational. I unfortunately didn’t get to see it working, but, when it is active, the pressure of the water in the reservoir powers it. Other than the invasive vines and some trash overflowing from the bins, the park appears to be well kept. Though this park might not be impacted by rising sea levels, the dam has large environmental impacts, which must be acknowledged. Dams prevent the migration of fish and altering riverbeds diminishes areas where fish can spawn in river bottoms. Another impact is that sediment is trapped by the dam, which can lead to the river being eroded further downstream. This park may be enjoyable and the dam a pretty photographic opportunity, but it is not without its environmental consequences.



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Marshlands Conservancy

Marshlands Conservancy is a beautiful park in Rye, NY, with a shoreline in the Long Island Sound. When I drove into the park, I was the first car there – that quickly changed. The park rapidly filled up. It’s a popular spot, even during weekdays. It has almost 150 acres, three miles of hiking trails, and is great for bird watching.

Marshlands Conservancy

When I started walking in Marshlands, it was immediately clear that the rangers work to keep the park looking as natural as possible. There are no open green spaces for picnicking or playing in. The closest thing available is an overgrown field, but that is so dissimilar to the open areas I usually see in urban parks, that it hardly counts. Most of the park is heavily wooded, with gigantic trees either standing tall or fallen over. Some of the fallen trees had been cut up so as not to block the trails, but the forest had mostly been left to its own devices.

One of the greatest draws to Marshlands Conservancy is the salt marsh. Though the park has lost over 31% of the marsh and 3% per year, the marshes are still a great place to explore and offer an important environmental service. The salt marsh is able to protect the park from rising sea levels and storm surges. Marshes can soak up water and release it at a pace that will not harm the landscape. For storm surges, marshlands can reduce the height of the surge, thus protecting the surrounding area. Also, the marsh provides a buffer zone for runoff before it enters into the sound.

Salt marsh at Marshlands Conservancy

One great act of conservation that happens in the park starts at the nature center and ends on the shoreline. Outside the center there are plastic bags one can grab and use to pick up trash while you walk around the park. At first I thought this seemed to be superfluous. The park was mostly clear of litter. But, when I walked along the shoreline, I saw quite a bit of trash, which washed in with the tides and is deposited in the park. It is fantastic that the rangers actively encourage visitors to help clean the park.

Along with those trash bags, the conservancy also has many other programs to help preserve the park. Every Saturday there is a volunteer opportunity, whether cleaning the stone walls, looking for nesting osprey, or maintaining hiking trails. On most Sundays, though no conservancy activities are planned, there are events to get people involved in nature. Marshlands Conservancy is a fine example of how certain New York parks should look and act like. I’m not saying all parks should eschew picnic areas and playgrounds, but this natural space will protect New York from rising sea levels and offers a fun area to discover the wilderness.

I had a mixed experience discovering the wild while in Marshlands. Near the back of the park there was a wire fence, which I originally thought was unusual. Once I passed through the open section of the fence, I soon came to understand why it was there. A pack of whitetail deer grazed all throughout the area. I was surrounded by about fifteen of them. They would stare at me for a second or two and then go about their business. It felt magical and I know that an experience like this would not be possible in most other New York parks. But, after a minute of trying to walk past the deer, the experience went from magical to a bit creepy. The deer kept staring at me every time I took a step. Though seeing such a large group of deer was very cool, large groups of deer aren’t always a good thing. They eat a lot of plants and can affect the composition of the forest, which can lower the overall health of the area.

The deer are watching.

For my next exploration, I go from one salt marsh to another. The park is Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, another area with large animal populations. Though that park also suffers the same tidal trash problems as Marshlands, Hurricane Sandy brought in a whole other set of issues for the refugee.



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