My first introduction to this riverside hideaway was several years ago when my friend John and I took a trip up the Harlem River in my little outboard. From Jersey City, we motored up the Hudson and hung a right just after the George Washington Bridge, which brings you into the Harlem River. We passed the Columbia University boathouse and then up on the right was a rundown little boat club called the Empire Marina. It was a riot of crumbling docks, sunken pilings, and abandoned boats decomposing in the mud.
When we went into the empty clubhouse, over the “bar” was a black-and-white glossy publicity shot of Bette Midler.
To my nostalgic eye, the whole derelict tableau had its charms, but apparently not to Bette. The Divine Miss M had already made a name for herself saving community gardens in New York City. If you crawled up the embankment behind the boat club, you came upon one of Bette’s community gardens—in the wilds of upper Manhattan.
In 1995, Midler founded the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) to create clean green neighborhoods in New York City communities.
In May 2004, the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse was pulled by two tugs from Norwalk, Conn., and anchored just north of the old Empire Marina. The colorful design recalls the 19th and early 20th centuries, when rowing was popular on the Harlem.
The boathouse, which serves community families as well as university rowers, is accessed through Swindler Cove Park, a NYRP community garden that includes landscaped flower beds, restored wetlands, native plantings, a freshwater pond, and pathways featuring before-and-after pictures of the park displayed on lecterns behind glass frames.
We visited on a warm fall day when the foliage was at its height and sunlight jumped and danced on the clear, blue water. To the north was the complex geometry of bridges that support the Cross Bronx Expressway.
This urban oasis is a perfect backyard adventure made possible by a woman who really cares what happens to our friends and communities across the river.
Should you choose to visit …
_________________________ Harlem River Drive and Dyckman Street
At 10th Avenue