Wild green Bronx
The Bronx is blooming - and bursting with gardens, birds, and parks.
Photos by Kathy Willens/AP
Despite its urban image, the Bronx has 7,000 acres of park land, about 25 percent of its total area. In addition to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, the boroughâ€™s green spaces include the New York Botanical Garden; a 19th century garden overlooking the Hudson River called Wave Hill; and Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay parks, where you can bird-watch, play golf and ride horses.
New York City is touting the Bronxâ€™s green attractions in a new promotion.
â€śMost people donâ€™t think of the Bronx like that. We want to open their eyes to the actual physical beauty of the Bronx,â€ť said George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, the cityâ€™s marketing and tourism organization.
Itâ€™s quite a turnaround for a place that once symbolized urban decay.
â€śLadies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning,â€ť sportscaster Howard Cosell famously said during a 1977 Yankees game, as footage aired of a building in flames near the stadium. An epidemic of arson plagued the city at the time.
New York is a different place now, billed as Americaâ€™s safest big city and attracting a record 46 million tourists last year.
Many of those tourists are repeat visitors, and â€śtheir appetite for something other than Times Square and the Statue of Liberty is enormous,â€ť said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., who got an enthusiastic reception talking up the Bronx at a recent tourism conference in Berlin.
GREEN SPACES: Sure, the Bronx Zoo has wild animals from around the world, including a new exhibit called Madagascar.
But for native wildlife, check out the Bronx River, which runs alongside the zoo. Turtles sun themselves on rocks, a red-winged blackbird calls, geese march by the shore.
On a recent day, a wayward duckling hopped out of the water and drew a crowd, attracting more attention than a nearby buffalo exhibit.
You can walk along the river without paying admission to the zoo; the trail starts near the totem pole in the zoo parking lot.
The Bronx River Alliance, which is restoring the waterway, hosts events and paddling on the river; http://www.bronxriver.org.
If you want lions and tigers too, the zoo is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (5:30 p.m. on weekends); http://www.bronxzoo.com.
North of the zoo is the New York Botanical Garden, a National Historic Landmark that dates to 1891, http://www.nybg.org, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
A tram takes you around the gardenâ€™s 250 acres, which include a childrenâ€™s garden, forest, rock garden, and a Victorian-style glass conservatory.
The vast rose gardenâ€™s 3,000 plants include varieties that bloom continuously spring to fall. An outdoor exhibit of 20 Henry Moore sculptures is up through Nov. 2.
Yves Soulier, a tourist from France, visited the garden recently with his wife, Anne. He said the Bronx had a reputation as â€śa hard banlieue,â€ť using the French term for the outskirts of a city. â€śI have read this in the books,â€ť he added. â€śBut we like the flowers and plants here.â€ť
In the northwest Bronx is Wave Hill, with a dozen themed gardens, panoramic views of the Hudson River and princely frogs in a lily pond. Itâ€™s open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; http://www.wavehill.org.
A photo exhibit opens Sept. 9 called â€śSurprisingly Natural: the Nature of the Bronx.â€ť
Hawks and eagles are often spotted during the gardenâ€™s bird walks, which resume in the fall.
The Bronx is home to two large parks, Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay. Both have golf courses, horseback riding, and historic house museums: Pelhamâ€™s Bartow-Pell Mansion, and the Van Cortlandt House, built in 1748 and the Bronxâ€™s oldest building.
Jack Rothman leads free birding tours around Pelham Bay Park and in the City Island area. His website lists bird-watching expeditions around the city, and includes a section called, â€śWhat does a guy from the Bronx know about birds?â€ť
Turns out he knows plenty. â€śYou hear the birds before you see them,â€ť he said, pausing to listen to a concert of bird songs, trills and whistles along a wooded path in Pelham Bay Park.
Over the course of an hour, a shushing sound he made, known among birders as â€śpishing,â€ť coaxed into view a yellow-throated warbler, a red-winged blackbird, an Eastern towhee, a willow flycatcher, and an orchard oriole.
Under a rusty bridge, he pointed out swallows nesting, and in the marshes, egrets fishing. â€śItâ€™s hard to believe this is the Bronx,â€ť he said.