Orchard Beach Boasts 1.7 Million Visitors in 2014

Lifeguards Keep a Keen Watch at Orchard Beach

Lifeguards Keep a Keen Watch at Orchard Beach

The Daily News reported that New York City beaches gained in popularity by 22% during the summer of 2014, but the largest increase was seen at Orchard Beach. The stunning crescent shoreline, and the many recreational and picnic facilities available at this Pelham Bay Park gem, attracted 1.7 million people. Also, while concerts have been annual events at Orchard Beach, this year marked the return of Jennifer Lopez for the first concert in her home borough of the Bronx. All and all, it was a spectacular season for the Park’s man-made beach, opened in 1936 as the brain-child of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and the celebrated New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. They envisioned this “Bronx Riviera” as a magnet for those who make the borough their home, as well as for visitors from well beyond the area. Their dreams were certainly fulfilled in the summer of 2014.

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Bronx Parks: A Year-Long Celebration

Indian Prayer Rock, Pelham Bay Park South. Through early photographs and newspaper accounts, local historian Jorge Santiago identified this massive boulder site as the rock formation once known as the Indian Prayer Rock, with a plaque commemorating the Bronx Parks system. (Photo: NYC Parks Photo Archive)

Indian Prayer Rock. Local historian Jorge Santiago identified this rock formation. (Photo: NYC Parks Photo Archive)

The year 2013 marked the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Bronx parks system and a yearlong celebration ensued, featuring special events, volunteer projects,  lectures, bike tours and much more.  The Bronx Parks 125 committee, chaired by Dart Westphal, planned a program that included four symposia highlighting the historic nature of the parks, a website featuring 125 favorite things in Bronx Parks, as well as web-based self-guided tours and a marketing and outreach campaign to encourage support for our beautiful green spaces.

Mr. Westphal presented a lecture at Bartow-Pell Mansion on the subject of Bronx parks, surveying their rich history and pointing out the influence parks had on the development of the borough as a whole. He gave special attention to Pelham Bay Park and the great mansions that once dotted this area. Bartow-Pell is the only historic mansion remaining.

The goal of the Bronx Parks 125 Committee was to build support for “the continued stewardship and improvement of this marvelous legacy.”  The Committee’s efforts were wholeheartedly supported and encouraged by The Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group for New York City’s historic neighborhoods. HDC selected the Bronx Parks system to be one of the prestigious winners of their 2013 “Six to Celebrate” program.

The image of Indian Prayer Rock, seen above, shows a plaque that was placed there to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Bronx Parks system. The plaque is long gone, but local historian Jorge Santiago found the holes left by screws once holding it in place. According to a 1913 article from The New York Times researched by Mr. Santiago, the Indian Prayer Rock plaque was one of six plaques placed in Bronx Parks at 30th anniversary ceremonies. Scouts, soldiers, bands and noted speakers all participated in those festivities, with the Parks Commissioner and Borough President on hand to pledge support for the preservation and upkeep of Bronx parks.

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Horrific Attack on Park Trees

Tree Damage

Damaged trees in South Meadow woods.

In October 2012, bark was carved off fifteen trees in the verdant area of Pelham Bay Park known as the South Meadow. Possibly inflicted with a hatchet, this damage created a circular loss of bark around the trunk of the trees, cutting off the vascular system that allows nutrients to pass between roots and branches.  Trees often die as a result. This practice, known as “girdling,” is occasionally used by forestry experts to thin out wooded areas, but this was not the case in Pelham Bay Park.  This was a criminal act. The trees involved are Pin Oaks and they stand near one of the Park’s great hiking destinations: a huge and magnificent 400-year-old White Oak. All nature lovers who use the Park are asked to be vigilant and to report any suspicious behavior.  Contact Marianne Anderson, Administrator of Pelham Bay Park, at Marianne.Anderson@parks.nyc.gov or call 718-430-4686.

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Meadow Mowing – A Winter’s Tale

by John Grayley, Natural Areas Manager, Pelham Bay Park

Orchard Beach Meadow (Photo: Peter Quinones)

Orchard Beach Meadow (Photo: Peter Quinones)

This winter, we have done something that we’ve been wanting to do for years at Pelham Bay Park. We broke out the lawn mowers. Over time, any area of grassland will become coarse and rank, losing both diversity and interest, and eventually turn into scrub and woodland if left unmanaged. Until a few years ago, this progression could clearly be seen at Orchard Beach Meadow. The base of the meadow had become dense and matted: the accumulation of dead material was preventing the re-establishment of perennials, resulting in a loss of flowering plants. Numerous woody species monopolized much of the area including Bayberry, Groundsel Bush, Multiflora Rose and Bush Honeysuckle and most had Porcelainberry vine growing over them. It was evident that without intervention the whole meadow would eventually be lost.

The removal of encroaching woody vegetation took several years to complete with the help of volunteers like the Friends of Pelham Bay Park and New York Cares. By early 2013 it was possible to begin a management regime of annual winter mowing. The mowing is scheduled appropriately – all the late-season plants have gone to seed and the ground is frozen to decrease the amount of disturbance. Mowing prevents the re-establishment of shrubs and trees and helps conserve the structure, balance and diversity of the park’s meadows. It will be very interesting to see what species of plants return or appear each year now that we have taken on this natural areas management practice. Who knows, perhaps lilies or even orchids might be found blooming here in the future.

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