Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook

Central New Jersey Rail Road Terminal, Jersey City

Voilà, the gem of Liberty State Park!

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The Central New Jersey Rail Road terminal (1889), also known as Communipaw Terminal is one of the most beautiful buildings of New York Harbor. Twenty tracks and four ferry slips provided the terminal with streams of cargo, supplies, passengers, workers. The palatial waiting room has a gabled ceiling three stories high and the most grand view of Upper Bay and the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines; it now houses Liberty State Park’s Visitor Center. Statue of Liberty ferries leave from the slips.

However, the treasure lies behind this elegantly proportioned and well-maintained edifice:

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the old tracks are overrun by a jungle of native flora, Nature come to reclaim her domain. Twenty tracks of young trees, tall grasses and weeds flourish, the dark old steel structures are lost amid the riotous green, the sidewalk cracks are colored in by little grasses and sprouts. A beautiful light filters evenly through the open trestles. It is dramatic in full sun, and magical on grey days:

(if it weren’t foggy, you’d have seen lower manhattan when the camera turned west at 0:25, looking out the building)

Nature’s indefatigable force is inspiring. Nothing we make–with all our might!–is going to last. No better proof exists than in the photographs of shipbreaking captured by Edward Burtynsky and Andrew Bell. Or, in the quieter photographs our own Tugster, closer to home, in the Kill van Kull.

What will last? Nature. Of which we can still claim to be a part, despite all our efforts.

“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home…” Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

the Sturgeon of Liberty State Park

Posted in harbor wildlife, historic vessels, jersey city, liberty state park by bowsprite on 2009/06/25

taxi

If you take this little water taxi from Manhattan’s World Financial ferry terminal across the river, it will first stop at Warren street, Jersey City, where you can explore Paulus Hook.

Next stop: south across the Morris Canal Basin to Liberty State Park.

This old Morris & Essex Canal once ran once ran all the way to the Delaware River. Barges carrying mainly coal from Pennsylvania and finished goods from NYC shuttled back and forth. Today, two marinas are here, home to luminaries like the historic–and working!–Tug Pegasus and the hearty denizen of the cold, battering North Sea: Cape Race. (And, a peek here of some of their neighbors.)

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pegasuscolortug Pegasus

caperace Cape Race

Liberty State Park is 1,122 acres of open space with sea breezes, parks, salt marshes, wildflowers, two little beaches lined by rocks and flora, and the expansive Hudson Liberty Walk. I save the gem of this park for another post, but for today:

walkway

if you walk along the red brick boardwalk that suspends over and transverses the sea into which fishermen cast off,

ellisIsle2and walk behind Ellis Island’s hospital and old buildings
(that walkway over to the island is guarded and not open to pedestrian traffic),

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and if you meander through the wildflower fields where you almost can pretend you are in a far away meadow
—until the helicopters and party boats’ booming music remind you of where you really are,

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and then go behind the Statue of Liberty with the ferries pulling in and out,
and then turn your back to Lady Liberty, you will see a little beach.

shells

And if you go onto that beach and follow the wrack line, you will see the shells of:
ribbed mussels, clams, oysters and bright orange little crabs.

Signs of life returning to NYHarbor! signs beyond the wood piling eating worms (that are so hardy they begin to bore into concrete!) Signs that the clams and oysters are coming back! How would one have known? there is hardly any access to the water in our harbor!

But there are bigger signs: a 6′ carcass of a sturgeon!

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Atlantic Sturgeon  (Acipenser oxyrhynchus)

Recent studies indicate that a population of approximately 150,000 juvenile Atlantic sturgeon may reside in the Hudson River at any one time. This species is not currently fished very heavily; in the past it was harvested in large numbers and often called “Albany beef”.

Atlantic sturgeon can reach lengths in excess of 10 feet and weigh several hundred pounds.

Sturgeons are primitive fishes with rows of bony, armorlike plates on their sides and a skeleton of cartilage rather than bones.  Barbels hang under the sturgeon’s long, flattened snout in front of the mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, their sensory barbels being used to detect food and their protruded, tubelike mouth, to suck in bottom-dwelling plants and animals uncovered as they move along the mud.

Sturgeon flesh is of good quality, and the roe (eggs) of Atlantic sturgeon is the well-known delicacy caviar.

The Atlantic sturgeon is anadromous, ascending large rivers and estuaries to spawn. New York’s Atlantic sturgeon population is restricted primarily to the Hudson River.

6'carcass

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What else lies in the waters that surround us? Both the schooner Pioneer and the sloop Clearwater have trawling sails, where nets are launched and harbor life is brought up to be observed and released.

The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy sponsors the occasional Go Fish event down near Pier A where you can bring  the inhabitants of the deep up yourself, have it recorded, put it in a tank, and then set free.

Of the clams, oysters and mussels, asked Tugster: “Is it edible?” Hmmm. Maybe soon. Maybe, one day, the waters will be so clean that we can wade into our waters with children, pick up a shellfish or two, and have no adverse reactions to popping them down the gullet. I shall keep the vision and hope we move in that direction. In the meantime, move upwind of that sturgeon!

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