Environment / Parks

New greenway link connects two parks

Samali Bikangaga

Students from Fannie Lou Hamer High School canoe on the Bronx River.

Starlight and Concrete Plant parks now joined, but waterfront still mostly inaccessible in Hunts Point

City and state officials broke ground on Oct. 6 on the construction of new parkland that will connect Starlight and Concrete Plant parks and complete a missing connection to the greenway along the shoreline of the Bronx River.

With the sun shining early Thursday morning in Claremont, around 200 guests including local, state and city officials, activists and community residents gathered on a blue metal pedestrian bridge under which the Bronx River flows. The celebration marked the beginning of the second phase of a multi-million-dollar project to create the Bronx Greenway, in process for over a decade.

“This is the culmination in many ways of a dream come true,” said Congressman Jose E. Serrano. “This piece ties it all together.”

The Bronx River Greenway Project kicked off in 2009 when the Bronx River Alliance and New York City Parks Department laid out a vision to restore the Bronx River and create a continuous bike and pedestrian path to extend from Westchester County all the way to the Randall’s Island Connector in Port Morris. This park will make the Greenway nearly continuous for six miles from 165th Street to the Westchester border.

Still, the waterfront south of the Bruckner Expressway is inaccessible in Hunts Point, except for the little patch that is Hunts Point Riverside Park. Park users must take to the streets to walk, bike or jog the 0.8 miles from Concrete Plant Park to Hunts Point Riverside Park.

This project, known as phase 2 of Starlight Park, will include 11 acres of parkland, three bridges, a half-mile jogging path, and a seamless link to its southern neighbor, Concrete Plant Park, according to the Bronx River Alliance and the Parks Department.

Through the partnership between federal, state and local agencies, the city and the U.S Department of Transportation have allocated over $40 million in funding toward the Greenway project. Phase 1, the construction of the current Starlight Park, started back in January 2013 and was designed and constructed by the New York State Department of Transportation. The second phase stalled back in November when Amtrak and the Department of Transportation could not reach an agreement for the construction of a pedestrian bridge over Amtrak’s Acela line at 172nd Street and Bronx River Avenue, but the two agencies finally found a solution.

“I think if they name a bridge this one should be called Perseverance Bridge, because it has been a long time coming,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s senior vice president of government affairs and corporate communications.

Currently, accessing either Starlight Park or Concrete Plant has proven to be both dangerous and uninviting. Park users have to walk along a noise-polluted stretch of the Sheridan Expressway via the 174th Street Bridge. Starlight Park runs from East174th Street to East 172nd Street; Concrete Plant Park runs from Freeman Street to Aldus Street.

But once in the parks, pedestrians and bikers have a straight line to the Westchester County, where the Greenway will eventually continue another 13 miles to the Kensico Dam in Mt. Pleasant.

“This isn’t just a parks project, this is a transportation project,” said Veronica Vanterpool, chair of the Bronx River Alliance. “And in a borough where a disproportionate amount of people are using public transit to get around, this is a transportation connection.”

While the ceremony was taking place, Obvio Gutiérrez, 15, a Hunts Point resident and a student from Fannie Lou Hamer High School, was canoeing on the river off Starlight Park with a few classmates. Students from Fannie Lou Hamer are currently conducting a study on the health of the river through regular water testing. She said while getting to Starlight Park from Hunts Point can be difficult, she enjoys learning the ecosystem of the river.

Underneath the highways and elevated tracks, both parks line the Bronx River, which is home to dozens of different animal species such as the yellow belly slider turtle, collard Aracari heron and the bunker fish, which have sparkly sides.

“I didn’t think anything lived in the waters, just ducks,” said Gutiérrez. “But then I learned that these birds weren’t ducks but Mavericks. But I still like to name the fish ‘Sparkles,’ though.”

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