For the past six years (come November 15), I’ve driven the Saw Mill Parkway to the Cross County Parkway and the reverse five days a week every week. It’s my commute! I’ve always said I’m lucky – first, to live a 15 minute drive from work, second because my commute is so beautiful, particularly at the changing of seasons. Though I always noticed Tibbetts Brook Park, which the majority of my drive takes me through, I never explored it before this weekend.
My goals for the visit were to go stand on the pedestrian bridge over the Saw Mill Parkway – something I had passed under so many times; try to find other features of the park that I’d recognize by having driven by them; and look at the fall leaves.
I drove to the park in mid-afternoon, a bit worried how successful my entry to it would be, since I read that it’s for Westchester residents only. For that reason I opted to park on a sidestreet instead of entering the park in the car. This maneuver ended up being totally unnecessary. As far as I can tell, “Westchester residents only” means “May through September parking and using the pool for Westchester residents only”. I had no trouble getting in on foot.
The first thing I came to was the pool area. It’s actually more like a mini-waterpark. I read that it was recently renovated. It looks quite nice, and probably geared towards youngish children. Being October, of course it was all fenced off and there was no water in the pools. This desolate waterpark reminded me of my 2004(?) visit to abandoned Holiday Sands (perhaps a topic for another post). Pools without water are so strange.
There is also a beautiful sort of pool house that faces out onto the sunken waterpark. It also looks recently renovated. A bit, it reminds me of the bathhouse at Jacob Riis Park. Not so much architecturally but the way the buildings feel like they greet the body of water.
I circled around northwards where I came upon the soccer fields. While they were fun to see, I was more interested by the view of a bridge I recognized as going over the curved ramp exiting onto the Cross County from the Saw Mill. Again, that satisfying feeling of seeing something that I had driven by so many times was present.
I left the excitement of the youth soccer games to return to my quest. Rounding the northmost bend in the path, passed so many beautiful fall trees!
I came across an option to either stay on the path I was on (by looking at my phone’s GPS it looked like this path just did a straightforward loop around the park’s lakes) or to sort of exit on to this South County Trailway. Since the trailway appeared to go closer to the highway, which is what I was interested in, I followed that. Out of curiosity I first headed north on the trailway to see if I could get close to the Cross County part.
To my surprise, the trailway goes uphill and ends up looking out over the soccer fields. The bridge I had seen and driven under so many times turns out to be a pedestrian bridge! On later reading, much of the South County Trailway follows the path of the old New York and Putnam Railroad tracks. It was so fascinating that this space had one of my other favorite things: repurposed spaces where evidence of their original purpose still exists. I loved it and walked across the former train bridge to the other side of the Cross County Parkway.
I walked just a bit further north on the trailway, feeding my exploring impulse. It turns out, the path continues behind the Yonkers Gateway Motel (also something I always see on my drive, though a bit of an eyesore) and then immediately onto another bridge, this one over Yonkers Avenue. Both bridges reminded me a bit of the High Line before it was a park in that they both had wild greenery growing out of them, something that seems surreal and unlikely. At this point I was unsure where the path ended – I found out later that it reaches all the way to Elmsford – so I turned around and headed back South, retracing my steps.
I walked for just a bit, seeing barely any other people. The trailway is almost completely enveloped with trees, and old ones, so you feel like you’re out in the wilderness other than the paved path and the noise from cars as you parallel the Saw Mill Parkway. Along the way there were what looked like old, abandoned telephone or electric poles. Could that have had something to do with the railroad that ran there?
Then, off in the distance, the pedestrian bridge, the reason I came there, appeared out of the foliage. I documented, then took the little bypass path to the foot of its staircase. The bridge runs in two sections – one over the trailway, the other over the highway. From the first leg of the bridge, continuing the theme of looking out over athletic facilities, you can see the tennis courts. I thought the number of stairs would be intimidating but I think I was so happy to be there that I was unaffected by the climb.
I could barely contain my excitement as I reached the bridge’s second span. It was amazing to be there over the highway like that. The noise from the cars was loud and they seemed frighteningly close. The space was both very open-seeming, as if just floating, and also constraining. You are surrounded by a cage of sorts on all sides. I spent a lot of time here, sitting, standing, and trying different positions and facings for observing (visually, aurally, and sensing) the traffic.
I was struck by the need to try to move/dance in the space. My mind raced – it is such a private place, but public too since the Saw Mill is such a busy road. It is safe because it’s walled in yet vulnerable because drivers can see in. Not to mention I wouldn’t want to be the cause of an accident if I’m distracting! I did a couple of tentative improvisations. I wished I’d felt less inhibited, since the space and the traffic and the sounds definitely moved and inspired me.
I was surprised that I didn’t see another soul on the bridge the entire time. In fact, I think I had only seen a person on it once during a drive ever. Strange, but perhaps it’s just because the bridge doesn’t connect to anything meaningful?
For completeness and curiosity’s sake I walked across the whole span and briefly discovered what’s on the other (west) side. Google Maps says this is not park land though other than the lack of a paved path, it looks just Tibbetts. I’m not sure if it’s private property or just not officially designated as park land. But that’s an exploration for another day!
I walked back over the bridge and onto the trailway. My plan was to cross over to the regular park path when convenient, and I found my impetus when I saw a gazebo through the trees. Stomping through a makeshift path a few feet downhill to the other trail, I wondered at the gazebo’s beauty as it sits on the edge of the lake. It was made all the more beautiful to me because it is slightly run down, with peeling paint and imperfections. The abandoned spaces, faux ancient architecture look is so beautiful to me. It reminded me a lot of the architecture in Untermyer Park, another Yonkers beauty.
As I started to round the south end of the lake, I added another goal to my day’s work: looking at animals! I am a big fan especially of North American mammals. Though I geek out over man-made spaces I love looking at animals and am touched by their presence in spaces where man and nature coexist (or collide).
I also came across two other interesting structures. One is a shelter for picnicking. It’s huge and in the center has an (also huge) inverted funnel-shaped vent for barbecue grill smoke so that you can grill under the shelter. How strange! The other looks like perhaps a boat house on the edge of the lake. The abandoned-ness and slight disrepair on the edge of the man-made lake reminded me a bit, again, of Holiday Sands.
Other beautiful fall vistas greeted me on my walk back north and towards the park’s exit. The sun began to sink low in the sky over the trees.