Much like the borough named after it, the Bronx River’s revival over the past several decades has been the result of activism and good old fashion rolling up of sleeves and countless hours of volunteer work by Bronxites.
Next week in Washington DC on February 17th, NYC Parks and The Bronx River Alliance will receive the 2017 Audrey Nelson Award from the National Community Development Association in recognition of the hard work turning around the environmental quality of a river that was inhospitable to life to one that saw the arrival of the first beavers in New York City in 200 years (aptly named José and Justin).
In 1974, The Bronx River Restoration Project was born as a result of residents seeing the long neglected river in desperate need of cleanup.
The group began the arduous task of cleaning the river with the help of everyday Bronxites willing to chip in.
While chaos reigned supreme as the fires of the 70s burned, residents were pulling out garbage such as tires (15,000 of them!), refrigerators, and a plethora of other debris.
Even more significant was and continues to this day is the presence of people of color taking charge of the environment and being in the front lines of the reclamation of the river.
WATCH: The Annual Bronx River Flotilla
Too often people of color are overlooked as stewards of our environment so to see documentation showing this side of all the work that was begun decades ago by community residents is a particularly important chapter of this continuing journey.
Since 1989, the city has been providing Federal Community Development Block Grant funding to the cleanup of the river.
12 years later in 2001, The Bronx River Project was born as a collaboration between community stakeholders, businesses, who shared the vision of seeing a vibrant river and ecology along its length.
Since then, according to a press release on the award,
The Bronx River Project has created 19 new acres of parkland and improved another 25, providing waterfront access for many in the South Bronx. The Bronx River Project has:
- Opened Hunts Point Riverside Park (2007) and Concrete Plant Park (2009).
- Renovated and extended Starlight Park (2013).
- Begun the renovation of Muskrat Cove Park (2008) and Shoelace Park (2010).
- Made substantial progress on the Bronx River Greenway, a series of waterfront parks and trails that will stretch across the river’s entire length in the Bronx.
Many Bronxites assume that the decline of the Bronx River was something recent that occurred with the planned urban decline of the borough beginning in the 60s and 70s (I say planned because the city literally abandoned The South Bronx in hopes of reducing the population and eventually rebuilding it for the middle and upper class).
But the decline of the Bronx River stretches back well over a century when it was often referred to as an open sewer thanks in part to Westchester County using it as such as part of their network and industry along the length of it as well.
Today, the Bronx River is probably as alive and the cleanest it’s been since before the Civil War.
Hiking along the river you’ll find raccoons, turtles, bats, and according to sampling data, some 30 species of fish have been identified calling the Bronx River home.
There’s even a fish ladder now to help alewife herring to go spawn further upstream beyond the 182nd Street Dam—the first time they’ve been able to do so in over 300 years!
While there’s much more work to be done, it’s refreshing to walk along the river and see the transformation it’s been through since my childhood.
What was once a place off limits now beckons you to partake and be one with nature.
A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but a mighty little river runs through The Bronx.