Saturday, December 1, 2007

City Island

If you have never been to City Island, be prepared for a very UN-NYC experience. Although a part of the Bronx, the island located in the Long Island Sound is a thing unto itself. It is aptly described in the bible of NYC urban explorers, Forgotten New York like this:

City Island looks like a transplanted fishing village seemingly dropped into the New York Metropolitan area. Its street grid is arranged much like a fish skeleton with City Island Avenue as the spine and the twenty four streets intersecting it as the bones, making foot exploration easy.

As far as my explorations are concerned, this is the furthest away from my home in Clinton Hill that you can get and still be in NYC. I planned on an early morning jaunt, so i left work at 5 a.m. and took the 6 train from 1st stop to the last stop. From there, in the early morning chill of late November I waited for two separate buses that never came. After waiting at two clearly marked bus stops for an hour, (the BX-12 and Bx-29 city island) i was tired of having the buses pass me by and went into the subway station and asked what was up. They told me that those stops don't get used this time of year. thanks for telling me MTA!!! (cover up the bus stops polls or put a new sign up).

One good byproduct of waiting so long on the Pelham Bay Park side of the Bruckner was that i got to watch the sunrise over the park with giant flocks of birds covering the sky(check out this photo)

Finally, i got on the bus and off i went through the park. On the bridge over the Eastchester Bay, i saw an incredible sunrise that makes me want to go back a few more times and shoot some film or bring other people to show. I had the bus drop me off at the southern end of the island so i could walk back and see it all. At the end are a few seafood restaurants that weren't open at 7 in the morning, but if they were i could have gone out to there viewing decks and look out at the Throggs Neck Bridge and Execution Rock Lighthouse (named for ruthless torture and killings by British soldiers during the revolutionary war).

I did get to see some of that from the end gate on City Island Avenue and still got the tail end of that sunrise. For the next hour and a half i walked up the island and out to the water on all the side streets. Most of them had locked gates for community use only (still controversy over the legality of that). I found a very oddly calm air while walking the streets. It really is a small village. Most of the buildings are houses close to the street with small yards and I felt almost like i was intruding on people privacy walking around with a camera. That doesn't happen in most, if any, place in NYC.

I found a few nice openings along the water and felt good about being on the beach in the early morning. Here are a few facts about this island:

  • At last count (2000) there were less than 5,000 people living on the island.
  • City Island was privately owned, most notably by Thomas Pell and later Benjamin Palmer.
  • Palmer renamed the Island, originally called Minifer's Island, in hope that is could compete with Manhattan's shipping businesses.
  • The history of the island was chronicled by Alice Payne in Tales Of The Clamdiggers.
  • There are a series of smaller islands, or some better described as uninhabitable rocks in the area. The largest and most well known is Hart Island which since 1869 has held the graves of New York's unknown dead...this is the famous Potter's Field.
  • There is a tremendous bird population stemming from the vast wetlands and land preserves of the nearby Pelham Bay Park. If you are so inclined, you can find Yellow-rumped warblers (in fall), Song Sparrow, Peragrine Falcons, Blue-capped Chicadees, Barn Swallow, willow flycatchers, Night Heron, Ring-necked pheasants and turkeys.
  • You can also see a healthy but oddly placed population of Monk Parakeets. It is thought that they once escaped from a crate at JFK and has since made homes in a few bird friendly neighborhoods in New York and has adapted beautifully.

My trip to City Island was relaxing if a bit too cold. The only negative i have to report is the ongoing noise of guns that can be heard at all hours of the day. The NYPD firing range is on a piece of land just west of City Island and is a bit of a nuisance and more than a bit eerie to hear exactly how many bullets are flying through the air.

One final thought...for years, i visited City Island once a summer with NYPIRG for our annual mini-golf tournament. I won twice!!!

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