Monday, April 13, 2009

Return to Inwood Hill Park

Last weekend, a friend of mine recruited me to come down to NYC to lead a nature walk for some sixth-graders from Washington Heights. So I brought them to my old park-rangering haunt, Inwood Hill Park, for my first visit back there in almost three years (n.b.: my experience as an Urban Park Ranger at Inwood is more or less how this blog was born).

We walked up the hill through the old-growth woods in the Clove, climbed through the Indian caves, and we saw:
  • the red-tailed hawk
  • several cardinals
  • a downy woodpecker
  • lots of house sparrows and squirrels
It's hard to tell what the kids thought of it. They were very well behaved, but then, they were also attending a Saturday-morning educational program on their own free will. They definitely liked the caves, though, and they seemed to think that the cardinals were neat. I wish we could have seen the hawk attack a pigeon or something: then the kids definitely would have loved nature, forever.

Anyhow, the park is much as I remember it, although it feels much smaller without any leaves on the trees. There was one very exciting change, though. A crescent-shaped piece of the playing field next to the "salt marsh" (pictured above) has been fenced off, with signs announcing the following:
RESTORATION IN PROGRESS: This area is being passively restored to native salt marsh. Sensitive vegetation, including Salt Marsh Cordgrass (spartina alternafolia), is in the process of regenerating.
This is pretty exciting. Before it was filled in with gravel and debris from the subway excavations, this entire field had been an expansive, ecologically-rich salt marsh. Large oyster-shell middens in the park's woods attest that the marsh helped support, among other things, one of the Hudson estuary's more productive oyster beds in the adjacent Spuyten Duyvil Creek. In the decades since, the adjacent mudflat (which park personnel optimistically refer to as the "tidal marsh") hosted the last remnants of the old marsh around its fringes, but even these sad shreds were sorely abused with picnic garbage, combined-sewer overflows, and park workers who hacked the marsh plants down with machetes for unclear "safety" purposes.

It's funny how often "safety" gives pencilneck bureaucrats the fiat to act like dicks.

In recent years, the edges of the filled-in playing field have been sinking, as the decades-old landfill settles and as tides from the adjacent mudflats gradually rise higher. When I worked there in 2006, there were two big London Plane trees on this location. During the course of the summer, their leaves dried up and fell, as the trees' roots parched themselves on increasingly briny groundwater. Instead of adding new landfill and planting new trees, the Parks Department has decided to let it sink: a decision that will be a lot cheaper and do a lot more good to the Spuyten Duyvil's water quality.

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