Chances are, you’ve passed right over it, in your car or in a bus, whizzing along the Bruckner or the Major Deegan, as you make your way into or out of the city. Or if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably ridden the #4 train to watch a game at Yankee Stadium. But there’s a lot more to the South Bronx than the Yankees, or views of industrial blight afforded by the many expressways that criss cross it. Just east of the Bruckner, in fact, a little known resurgence is taking place along the Bronx River. I set out one morning to investigate for myself.
The Hunts Point section of the South Bronx lies approximately 5 miles north of Astoria, a 25-minute bike ride for me via the Triborough / RFK bridge. At the southern end of Tiffany St., about a mile off the gritty Bruckner Blvd, past old warehouses and truck repair shops, sits an 11-acre patch of green by the name of Barretto Point Park.
Hemmed in by the East River, with sweeping views of North and South Brother Islands, the Hell Gate Bridge, and Manhattan beyond, the park is named after Barretto Bay. On any given day, anglers are the earliest arrivals at the park, staking out a spot on the newly rebuilt Tiffany Pier. The picnic areas and playground fill up shortly after, with the volleyball and basketball courts following suit. But this little park‘s biggest claim to fame is playing host to the city’s only floating pool, and an impeccably well kept one at that!
Hunts Point is home to the world’s largest food distribution centre and its easy to get an idea of its scale as you bike north along Edgewater Road. Where Edgewater Rd meets Lafayette Ave., was the site of a former, illegal, dumping ground, which no doubt used the Bronx River as a convenient outlet. But things have changed radically over the last few years, and that half-acre of land has been transformed, literally, into a park. For a neighbourhood characterized by metal merchants and scrap dealers, and the imposing walls of the wholesale market, Hunts Point Riverside Park is truly an oasis!
The nautical theme of the playground is not just a creative showpiece but also a precursor to what lies ahead. The park is home to ‘Rocking the Boat‘, a non-profit set up in ’96, that recruits youngsters from the South Bronx and Harlem and hones them in the skills of wooden boat building. On these very boats, the city, in conjunction with the foundation, offers free rowing excursions, every weekend in the summer, along the Bronx River – the youngsters fulfilling both the rower and guides role!
Its hard to believe that this river, once forgotten, appears so serene today, and for that matter is even navigable! The gentle splashes made by the oars are mixed in with the distant murmur of planes descending into neighbouring La Guardia airport, while an Egret ruffles the waters as it takes flight. Every now and then, however, there’s that reminder of what was…
Outside the park, by the entrance to the compound that houses Rocking the Boat, is a colourful mural reflective of a changing tide, and how the prevalence of technology in our lives is effecting that.
About a half mile up Edgewater Rd., and lying sandwiched between the Bronx River and the Amtrak right-of-way is the aptly named Concrete Plant Park. A concrete batch mix plant was built on the site in 1945, and was operational till the late 80s, after which it lay abandoned. The silos, hoppers and conveyor structures have been retained, serving as a reminder of the area’s industrial past, and continue to be the defining feature of this most intriguing 7-acre park.
All 3 parks have come up within the last few years, their continuous use sure to have a positive impact on the ongoing clean up efforts in the Bronx River. A greenway (bike path) is in the pipeline, one that will connect Randall’s Island to the Bronx, and eventually run the length of the river. To hear about all this is one thing – to actually see the city’s funds being put to good use is truly heartwarming.
Across the Bronx River lies Soundview Park, the area’s largest, and one that predates the other three by several decades. Named after its location at the mouth of the Long Island Sound, the park traces its history back to 1937, when the area was all marshland. Today, this 205-acre park is a staple amongst residents of South Central Bronx, offering everything from sports fields to fishing, and in the works, an upcoming, all-weather running track. For bikers especially, this park is something of a gem, boasting some of the most pristine greenways in the city!
Two miles west of Soundview Park, and some 15-minutes later, we are on East 149th St. Several stores and eateries line the thoroughfare, amongst them Mexicocina. This tiny homely eatery seats no more than 12 customers and our wait is understandably long. But I’m glad to see that despite its recent write-up in the NY Times, its patrons remain primarily loyal locals!
Our turn arrives, and we proceed to order some chilled glasses of Sangria (made here with Wine and Tequila!), a selection of Tacos, and the house special, Albondigas Mexicanas or Mexican-style Meatballs.
The Albondigas turn out to be some of the best meatballs I’ve ever had, and the soup that accompanies them is reminiscent of a home-style Indian curry. The Tacos are outstanding too, and the Sangria utterly refreshing – they don’t skimp on the servings here! For 20-odd bucks I’ve imbibed more than my fair share of food and beverage, and suddenly, the 5-odd miles back to Astoria seem daunting 😉
A full set of pics from the ride can be seen here.