By Maria Gorshin

Is Riverside Park Manhattan’s best park, or is it forever second to New York’s fabled Central Park? The answer depends on whom you ask. But what is certain is that there always seems to be something more to discover about Riverside.

It seems everyone has a certain area of the park that is a favorite, but with four miles to explore it’s difficult to get to know all of Riverside Park without a bit of dedicated effort. If you’re a dog lover your visits may center on the park’s 8 dog runs. If gardening is your passion, you might spend most of your time visiting Riverside’s three volunteer maintained green thumb areas. If that’s the case, at any given time that you are enjoying one part of the park you might be missing out on much more taking part in a different area  – yoga lessons, concerts, volleyball games, handball tournaments, skateboarding events, free kayaking and sunset fishing for example. Just try taking a peaceful lie-me-down on one of Riverside’s sweeping lawns once you realize just how much the park has going on. Actually, that’s really not that hard to do but still, there is so much to see and do!

It seems every Upper West Sider with a long-standing fondness for Riverside has stories to share about the park. My childhood memories of Riverside Park fun center on the stretch between West 72nd Street and the 79th Street Boat Basin. That’s where I remember watching the parade of historic Tall Ships during the 1976 Bi-Centennial celebration. After the tragic collapse of the Henry Hudson Parkway overpass I remember joining flocks of Upper West Siders in the novel experience of walking, biking and roller skating along usually congested roadway. I also recall the playground scuffles over shared toys and falls onto concrete from monkey bars and metal swings before rubber padding became standard safety equipment in playgrounds.

The areas north along the river always looked appealing, especially from vantage points along Riverside Drive, but many years ago the walkways that led down to them were marred by graffiti, over-grown and littered. They seemed just a little menacing so as a child I rarely had the chance to explore past 88th Street. For years an entire stretch of park fell off my radar.

In the mid-1980s, The Parks Department conducted a study to see how Riverside could be improved. Local residents expressed a desire to see the park cleaned up not only in terms of facilities and landscaping but in regards to safety. Overgrown and sparsely used areas had become havens for illicit activities. Extensive restoration projects brought new life and renewed beauty to Riverside. Within a few years there was hardly an acre of park or a time of day when Riverside wasn’t a great place to be.

Today New Yorkers continue to enjoy a park that is in continuous renewal. We can thank The Riverside Park Fund, devoted volunteers who have contributed thousands of man hours to park improvement, and thank The Parks Department for their strategic planning and dedicated efforts.

Share your favorite Riverside Park memories with Westside Rag in the comments section below – we would love to hear from you!

A Little Riverside Park History:

The original stretch of land that first became known as Riverside Park in 1872 was 191 acres in length and reached from West 72nd Street to 125th Street.

Frederick Law Olmsted prepared the conceptual plan for the park and Riverside Drive. Architects and horticulturalists such as Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons joined the design team to create a new landscape “according to the English gardening ideal, creating the appearance that the Park was an extension of the Hudson River Valley.”

In the early 20th century monuments and sculptures honoring New York’s heroes became part of Riverside Park. The park’s borders were extended beyond 125th Street to reach 155th Street.

F. Stuart Williamson designed the extension of Riverside Park “with its decorative viaduct, castle-like retaining walls and grand entry ensembles.”

In 1937, during Robert Moses’ administration, the park was expanded with the addition of 132 acres. Recreational facilities were introduced into plans for the park.

In 1980, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the section of Riverside Park from 72nd to 125th Street a scenic landmark.

Photo by Ennuipoet via flickr.