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Highbridge Park

Location:    West 155th & Dyckman Streets, Edgecomb & Amsterdam Avenues, Manhattan

Highbridge Park is a largely undiscovered natural gem among New York City green spaces. The park straddles a rocky cliff, featuring a series of rugged outcroppings that offer sweeping views of the Harlem River, immediately below. Spanning 119 acres, the park also encompasses a wide variety of trees, creating numerous glens and woodlands that provide a unique urban habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Highbridge Park’s many miles of pathways welcome pedestrians and its terrain is an increasingly popular draw for off-road cyclists. In addition, the Highbridge Recreation Center and Pool has remained a favorite summer’s day respite among New Yorkers for decades.

A footbridge connecting Upper Manhattan to The Bronx gives Highbridge Park its name. The High Bridge – built during the construction of the Croton Aqueduct, the city’s first access to a reliable and clean water supply – has stood since 1848 and is the oldest bridge in New York City. Originally designed as a pedestrian walkway atop the 138-foot-high Aqueduct where it spanned the Harlem River, the High Bridge was never used for vehicular traffic. Closed in the 1970s, the bridge is currently scheduled to re-open in 2013, following renovations. The park is also the site of the 125-foot, granite Highbridge Tower – a former water storage facility perched above the High Bridge and river, where it has been one of the city’s most visible landmarks since 1872.

Like many other New York City public open spaces, Highbridge has suffered from past neglect. However, in 1996, New York Restoration Project’s (NYRP) revitalization efforts expanded into the park – making it one of NYRP’s favorite urban discoveries. After suffering almost 30 years of neglect and misuse, NYRP crews and volunteers – in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation – uncovered more than four miles of pathways that had been buried under accumulated garbage and debris. In the process, NYRP removed abandoned automobiles and 481 tons of trash – including 8,000 tires – from what was the last, large New York City public park site to undergo major restoration.

Today, under NYRP’s Highbridge Management Plan, NYRP supports its partner – the New York City Parks Department – by performing annual maintenance to keep the northern half of Highbridge Park safe and clean. A dedicated crew of NYRP operations and horticulture staff work full-time pulling tons of trash from the park each year; replacing invasive, non-native species like Norway maple with oak and dogwood; and planting shrubs, groundcover and wildflowers. In addition, NYRP keeps access points into the park clear, beautifies entrance points to encourage visitation and – with the help of corporate and community volunteers – continually clears encroaching vegetation from pathways.

To further ensure ongoing conservation and restoration efforts and promote sustainability, NYRP environmental educators conduct birding, forest science and other educational programs at Highbridge Park – utilizing its natural features as outdoor classrooms for local at-risk public schoolchildren. NYRP’s popular Highbridge Hike also offers youth exposure to an expansive and unfrequented urban park that is home to a surprising number of plant and animal species – empowering students to explore their local natural resources.