When New York City temperatures got stuck in the high 90’s for a long week in July, sweat and misery seemed to be everywhere. But some people were brave enough to unglue themselves from their air conditioners and venture outside.
If they were savvy enough to head for Brooklyn Bridge Park in trendy Dumbo, they had a myriad of ways to get relief. As envisioned by landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh, BBP is made up of seven intertwined sustainable ecosystems distributed along a series of re-purposed industrial piers. It opened in 2010 and has been gradually adding to its wide-ranging menu of vistas and activities.
Photography by Erin Boyle.
Its most dramatic feature, of course, is its site. It hugs the East River under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and down the water’s edge to Red Hook. The view of Manhattan’s cityscape is unobstructed and magical. Go at dusk sometime and watch the lights of the city miraculously twinkle on as night falls. When it’s really really hot, just sitting on a riverside bench catching a breeze and watching the river traffic go by seems to have a hypnotic, cooling effect.
A good place to start your hike in Brooklyn Bridge Park is actually high on a bluff above the river. If you go to the lovely old neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and meander over to its genteel promenade, you will find a brand new engineering marvel of a footbridge to take you down into the park.
The Squibb Park Bridge is modeled on the trail bridges found in state and national parks. It is lightweight and flexible and “gives” when you walk on it so don’t be alarmed if you feel it moving under your feet. Concentrate instead on the panoramic views that the bridge affords. As you bounce along the bridge, see if you can spot Staten Island ferries and Lady Liberty off to the left.
When you exit the bridge you will be near a boat ramp where you may see kayakers or other non-motorized boating enthusiasts putting out to sea. One of the great successes in the design of the park is that it packs so many different activities into its 85 acres. For the second summer there is even a 30′ x 50′ pop-up swimming pool.
There are picnic tables, soccer fields, volleyball courts, numerous innovative playgrounds for children of various ages, dog runs, cafes and places to fish as well as wade in the river. Make plans to return in the fall when Brooklyn Bridge Park promises to offer even more activities. Under construction now are facilities for basketball, handball and in-line skating.
The park is also a haven for plant-lovers. You can escape the broiling sun by taking a shady, winding path through lush plantings dense with natives. For a list of plants currently in bloom, download theBrooklyn Bridge Plant Guides. Birds abound and occasionally a musk rat is seen cavorting in a manmade salt marsh. No one seems to know how he got there.
A beautiful place to explore near the boat ramp is the path that follows, and occasionally crosses, a stream surrounded by flourishing natives such as highbush blueberry, serviceberry, swamp rose, and joe pye weed as well as iris, lupines and ferns.
A rain garden system collects storm water and purifies it before draining it into an underground tank to be used for irrigation.
Continue along the park paths to the historic Fulton Ferry Landing where ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan began in 1642 and continues today with New York Water Taxi and East River Ferry services. Plaques explain the Battle of Brooklyn where George Washington was defeated by the British in 1776. Mark di Suvero’s 1991 work, “Yoga” was installed in collaboration with Storm King Art Center. The giant steel sculpture pivots with the wind and “points” to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Governor’s Island as it turns.
Next, head past the venerable River Cafe, still under repair after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation last year, and follow the path back toward the river to your left. You will see the haunting ruin of an old tobacco warehouse to your right. [Don’t let the emptiness in this photo deceive you, if you plan your trip for a Sunday, the Tobacco Warehouse is filled vendors selling packaged and prepared foods at Smorgasburg (Dumbo)].
Soon you will reach the area where the park intersects with Main Street in DUMBO. Giant granite steps lead down to a rocky beach. Walk on and you will come to a tidal pool with a sandy beach. If you remove your shoes and stand there for a while you will feel cool and refreshed and forget you are sweltering through summer in the city.
I always marvel that the Brooklyn Bridge Park is so ingeniously designed that it can generously accommodate hundreds of people all doing various things at the same time with surprisingly little crowding. When I was there in June a bride and groom, in traditional long white gown and tux, strolled by Jane’s Carousel in it’s gleaming glass box. A few hipsters and some older visitors dozed on benches. All seemed oblivious to the delighted shrieks of children riding the antique wooden horses.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day; head to the park website for directions and additional information.
For more about New York City Parks and Botanic Gardens, see:
- How Brooklyn Bridge Park Survived a Hurricane
- Secrets to Surviving a Hurricane: New York’s High Line Park
- Uli Lorimer, Native Plant Whisperer
- The Bronx Goes Native: A Visit to the New York Botanic Garden