Days of Adventure (Vol. 2)
We are ecstatic to announce a continued partnership with The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit with an outpost in New York City. As part of our Days of Adventure: NYC & Beyond Series, each month, we'll bring you a new article by Rob of the Nature Conservancy that highlights the nature of NYC specifically through the lens of accessibility to the outdoors for us New Yorkers. If these stories inspire you to adventure in or near NYC share with the tag #daysofadventure!
Days of Adventure, Volume 2: Long Run of Reflection
I awaken well before even the slightest sign of the mid-winter sun. The warmth of my morning tea is soothing, but it fails to mask the reality that awaits on the other side of the window: cold air that bites hard in the darkness, and is forecast to hold its grasp well after the sun rises. Despite the deep freeze, the opportunity to spend endless hours in nature still makes it a perfect day for a 35 mile run through the city, over the river, and deep into the wooded trails beyond New York’s state lines.
With enough water and some light food in my pack, I step out into the January air and begin my run, heading westward across upper Manhattan, cutting through the quiet weekend streets until I hit the east bank of the mighty Hudson. Whether I’m training for an upcoming ultramarathon or not—today, I’m just out for the joy of it—this is one of my favorite places to get in a solid day of grit and adventure. Now far removed from the shield of buildings, the wind shows its face in full force. Blowing out of the north, the gusts seem to grow stronger as the wind continues pushing downstream. Turning around is not an option I give myself, so charging another five miles straight into a freezing headwind is the only reality.
Less than an hour later I reach the George Washington Bridge, trudge up the winding entrance ramp, and leave the City in my rear view. As I glide steadily over the Hudson, a glance to my left reveals a majestic view of Lower Manhattan in the pre-dawn light. One World Trade sticks out easily and proudly above the surrounding skyscrapers like the highest peak in an iconic mountain range. The sea of urban summits blends into the mouth of the river and the heart of New York Harbor, where a lone freighter chugs calmly upstream. I breathe in the beauty, with a side of more frozen air, and make the final steps toward the steep riverside cliffs of the Garden State.
Atop the Palisades, a well-marked yet seldom-traveled trail system runs through the dense forest hundreds of feet above the west bank of the river. It’s crazy to think this setting, though outside of New York State borders, is so easily accessible to New Yorkers. Through the gaps in the trees along the cliff’s edge, the massive towers and cables of the GWB stand in front of the diverse city skyline. As I run further north toward my turn-around point—the Alpine Ranger Station, still hours away—Manhattan flows into the Bronx, and the Bronx will soon fade into the beginnings of Westchester County.
As I reflect deeper on the run, I remember the City that lives across the river is every bit a part of our natural world as the streams and rocks and roots I’m currently stepping over. How can this be, you might ask? After all, New York City is just hundreds of square miles of mostly buildings, right? Well, that might seem true on the surface, but the truth is the five boroughs comprise a unique ecosystem all in itself. There are hundreds of different kinds of trees, and more wildlife species than in Yellowstone National Park. Among those species is the Peregrine Falcon—New York City is actually home to the largest urban population of the raptor.
Heading back southbound on the Long Path trail, I started to really look at the City as a whole—quite literally—because I could see a large swath of it from my viewpoint on the high cliffs. On this day, we’re barely into the New Year, so it’s no surprise my mind begins to wander back and forth through the year behind and the one that lies ahead—especially considering the past and future of the Big Apple.
In September of 2014 New York, as a united front that included City and State, made strides toward becoming a national leader for climate action when Governor Cuomo signed the Community Risk Reduction and Resiliency Act into law. Here in Gotham, Mayor de Blasio announced the City would make the necessary changes to cut our carbon impact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. Exciting shifts are on the horizon, without a doubt.
Now, one month into 2015, we have the days and weeks and months ahead to continue making the City a defender of the environment as a whole. Weeks ago, the City put the kibosh on plastic Styrofoam containers, and now, along with several advocacy groups, The Nature Conservancy is pushing for the implementation of a small fee on single-use bags to help drastically decrease the amount of trash that winds up in our waterways, in our parks and in our gutters.
Every time I run this long route from Manhattan to the Palisades and back, I return refreshed and invigorated (and, understandably, a bit tired). But on this occasion, I’m also coming back over the bridge and into the upper reaches of the City as a proud New Yorker ready to tackle the New Year’s challenges that can make the five boroughs a greener, cleaner cornerstone of the natural world.
Top 5 Hiking/Running Trails in and around NYC:
• The Long Path trail (This one is in NJ, but easily accessible by foot, bike, or car from the George Washington Bridge. This is my favorite place to get in long miles when training for 50 mile races.)
• North Woods, Central Park (This is the place I mentioned above. Scramble up the “Harlem Flatiron” and catch your breath at the historic Blockhouse if you’re up for it.
• Long Island Greenbelt Trail (Take LIRR to Cold Spring Harbor station. This trail is packed with hills and pine trees — you’ll think you’re in the Pacific Northwest. This spot is the venue for the LI 50km trail championships every May.)
• Van Cortlandt Park (A great place for some hilly running and hiking in the Bronx. An easy walk from the 1 or 4 trains)
• Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Beautiful trail system in Queens teeming with a variety of species of birds. Perfect for a nature break, or a mellow trail run.)
–Rob Riccardo is a native of Long Island, currently living in New York City. When Rob’s not outside getting his weekend adventure fix, he’s fulfilling his other passion for environmental conservation as the NYC Media Relations Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy – the world’s leading environmental non-profit organization.