urban escapes

Experience history and nature on rail-trails

by Virginia Thompson

A view from the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.

A view from the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.

My husband is a huge fan of biking on rail-trails created by the conversion of unused railroad rights-of-way.  Within the past year alone, he has ridden on many trails in the Philadelphia suburbs, as well as throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.  On a recent trip, we rode on two rail-trails in southcentral Pennsylvania.

The Heritage Rail Trail County Park in York County, recently ranked by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as the top rail-trail in the U.S. for American history, carried President Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg for his famous address and also carried his funeral party to Springfield, Illinois, following his assassination.  The trail follows the South Branch of Codorus Creek, connecting the City of York and many small communities with beautifully restored train stations that now serve other purposes.  The trail, next to an active rail line, also continues across the Mason-Dixon line and connects with the Northern Central Rail Trail in Maryland.

The Safe Harbor Dam as seen from the Enola Low-Grade Trail

The Safe Harbor Dam as seen from the Enola Low-Grade Trail

Another trail we biked recently was in Lancaster County—the Enola Low-Grade Trail—which parallels the Susquehanna River as it approaches the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  One of the interesting facets of the trail is the juxtaposition of older and new forms of electric power.  On the cliffs above the trail are several large windmills, taking advantage of the height and open space to generate electricity.  Just below the windmills sits the Safe Harbor dam, reliably providing hydroelectric power since December 1931.  The fish congregating at the dam attract bald eagles, which can be seen flying above the dam. There’s nothing quite like experiencing history and nature by biking or hiking a rail-trail. At one stop on the trail, as I looked up at the windmills and down to the river and generating station, I felt small and insignificant in one respect, but also an important part of the natural balance.

Turning formerly used rail lines into biking and hiking trails is a great way to bring people closer to waterways in their regions. EPA’s Brownfields program has had a hand in converting unused rail lines, which often snake along picturesque rivers (our nation’s original highways), into prime recreational areas. The Harrison Township Mine Site in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania was assessed through a Brownfields grant, and is now part of the Rachel Carson trail, attracting area visitors as well as hiking and running events. Allegheny County is even acquiring additional land so that the Harrison Hills Park Mine Site will ultimately connect three trails – the Rachel Carson Trail, the Butler-Freeport Trail, and the Baker Trail.

Leave a comment below to let us know about rail-trails in your area.

 

About the author: Virginia Thompson works at EPA Region 3 and accompanies her husband on his rail-trail adventures as often as possible.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sustainable Things to Do in NYC This Weekend

St. Patrick’s Day may be the ‘greenest’ holiday of the year, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually eco-friendly. We’ve got recommendations to make sure your weekend is sustainable as well as fun!

Bronx Historical Society Free Public Lecture: Find out more about historical buildings and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Saturday, March 16, 11 a.m.

Brooklyn Navy Yard Bike Tour: Explore Brooklyn’s urban industrial park on your bike and check out the solar and wind-powered street lamps and New York City’s first building-mounted wind turbines. Sunday, March 17, noon.

Family Art Project at Wave Hill: Search for real animal tracks on the garden grounds, then using simple printmaking methods make some bold prints of your own. Saturday, March 16, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Grow Our Grassroots: Join NYC government agencies and non-profits while networking with residents committed to making our city more sustainable at this second annual summit. Saturday, March 16, 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Irish Arts Center Open House: Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with an afternoon of authentic Irish music, language, crafts and film. March 17, noon – 5 p.m.

Maple Weekend: Head upstate for this annual weekend event hosted by the New York State Maple Producers Association. Learn how maple syrup and other related products are made. Tastings and activities vary depending on location. March 16 – 17, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

School Garden Raised Bed Construction Workshop: Join Green Thumb Community Gardens to learn how to build raised beds for your garden. Saturday, March 16, 11 a.m. – noon.

Union Square Park Walking Tour: Join Big Onion Walking Tours for a free, 90 minute tour of the Union Square neighborhood. Saturday, March 16, 2 p.m.

Waking up the Farm: Volunteers and future members are invited to come help clean up, start seeds and plant bulbs at La Finca Del Sur – the first women-led urban farm in the Bronx. Saturday and Sunday, March 16-17, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sustainable Weekend Activities: NYC

Check out our top eco-friendly weekend recommendations and feel free to share your own in the comments section.

Canstruction Design Competition: Twenty-five teams of architects, engineers, contractors and the students they mentor will compete to build enormous structures made entirely out of unopened cans of food, which are then on view to the public until they are dismantled and donated to City Harvest for distribution to those in need. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring a can of high quality food to the exhibition’s collection station to reach their goal of collecting over 50,000 pounds of non-perishable edibles. Saturday, February 9 and Sunday February 10, 10:00 a.m. –6:00 p.m.

Clothing and Textile Recycling:  Textiles can be dropped off weekly at eight select Greenmarkets: 97th Street, Union Square (Monday and Saturday only), Grand Army Plaza, Fort Greene, McCarren Park, Inwood, Tompkins Square and Jackson Heights.  Collections accept clean and dry clothing, paired shoes, bedding, linens, hats, handbags, belts, fabric scraps 36″ x 36″ or larger and other textiles. Click here for the full schedule of textile recycling stations.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Enjoy live music every Friday from 5:30 –7:30 p.m. Admission is always free.

Health & Race Walking in Central Park— Still looking to turn over a new leaf in 2013? Join other New Yorkers as you get fit and enjoy Central Park’s winter landscapes. Saturday, February 9, 9:30 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

Lunar New Year Firecracker Celebration: Join the Better Chinatown Society for the 14th Annual New Year firecracker ceremony and cultural festival at Sara Roosevelt Park this Sunday, February 10 at 11:00 a.m.

Rechargeable Battery and Cell Phone Recycling: Here at EPA, eCycling is one of our favorite topics. If you’re interested in diverting e-waste from landfills, check out GrowNYC’s collection boxes for rechargeable batteries and cell phones, stationed at Greenmarkets across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. For a complete list of hours and locations, click here.

Volunteer: Find volunteer opportunities in your area as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

ea as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Eco-friendly Weekend Activities

Cross Central Park Promenade Tour – You will see many surprises: a hidden bench that tells time, miniature boats powered by the wind, a magnificent sculpture celebrating fresh water. These are just some of the sites on this east-to-west walk through the Park. Sunday, February 3, 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.

Family Art Project at Wave Hill: March Out The Mardi Gras! Join visiting native New Orleans artist and instructor Paul Deo to make a colorful parasol, hat, nature mask or funky bead necklace. Then join an imaginative indoor parade as we create the sights, colors and sounds of the Mardi Gras at the Ecology Building in Wave Hill. Sunday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. –1:00 p.m.

Fix Your Bike Workshop: Come learn how to fix bikes, do simple maintenance and tune-ups at the Time’s Up bike mechanic skill share. Sunday, February 3, 6:00 p.m.

NYC Audubon Winter EcoCruise: Step aboard the New York Water Taxi for a winter adventure in New York Harbor! Look for harbor seals on the rocky shores of Governors Island and the more remote Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Learn about the surprisingly diverse winter birds of New York City, including ducks, geese, loons, and sandpipers – many of which migrate south from the Arctic Circle. Dress warmly and bring your binoculars because there will be plenty to see! Departs Pier 17, South Street Seaport. Sunday, February 3, 2:00 –4:00 p.m.

The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter – Ready for summer? Stop by the American Museum of Natural History this weekend to frolic with 500 butterfly specimens in a balmy 80 degree vivarium. Saturday-Sunday, February 2-3, 10:00 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sea Farming Shellfish and Seaweed in Long Island Sound

Local students, through a program with Rocking the Boat a nonprofit community development organization, helping to set up the shellfish and seaweed raft off of Hunts Point in the Bronx.

By Mark Tedesco

The theory behind the martial art of Jiu Jitsu is to use an attacker’s force against him or herself.   What if the same theory can be applied to pollutants that degrade coastal water quality?  An innovative project just offshore of where the Bronx River empties into western Long Island Sound is doing just that.

Shellfish and seaweed suspension raft off the Bronx River

There on a raft anchored about 20 meters offshore, not far from the Hunts Point market, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Connecticut, and Purchase College are studying a pilot sea farm of shellfish and seaweed.  Students from the South Bronx community are maintaining the sea farm through involvement of Rocking the Boat, a nonprofit community development organization.  The seaweed and shellfish (ribbed mussels) grow by absorbing and filtering nutrients from the water.  When harvested, the nutrients they contain are taken out of the water.  As a result, sea farming of shellfish and seaweed could be a powerful tool in cleaning up nutrient-enriched waters.

While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for the growth of plants and animals, in excess they can overwhelm coastal waters, resulting in poor visibility, low oxygen levels, and loss of healthy wetlands and sea grasses. Through the Long Island Sound Study, EPA and the states of New York and Connecticut are taking action to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound by reducing the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound by 60 percent, mainly by upgrading wastewater treatment plants and controlling fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff. Enhancing sea farming of shellfish and seaweeds in Long Island Sound can complement nutrient control strategies as part of a comprehensive clean water strategy.  The pilot study is evaluating a range of potential markets for the harvest, from seafood for human consumption to agricultural feeds, from biofuels to pharmaceutical products.

The project has caught the interest of the CNN and the New York Times.  If successful, the expansion of sea farming of shellfish and seaweed can mean more jobs, cleaner water, and local quality products.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator,  in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sustainable Weekend Activities to Keep you Warm!

It may be cold, but there’s no need to hibernate! We’ve got suggestions to help you brave the temps while still staying sustainable and eco-friendly.

Animal Autographs – Head to Staten Island to learn how to identify Greenbelt inhabitants by their footprints. Walk and crafting geared to ages 4-8. Sunday, January 27,  1 p.m.

Eco-Crafting Competition – Teams will compete to create crafts out of discarded materials in this Iron Chef-style competition. Come out and cheer for your favorite up-cyclers! Friday, January 25, 6 p.m.

Family Art Project: Give a Winter Bird a Home – Learn how to make a birdhouse or feeder with recycled materials. Entrance is free at Wave Hill Gardens until noon on Saturday. January 26, 10 a.m.

Light Show at Winter Garden – Check out the opening weekend of the LED-light installation at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. Daily from sunset to 12 a.m.

Winter Jam – It’s time for the annual winter sports festival in Central Park! Get out and explore some of the winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, animal tracking and more. This year there is even a doggie snow zone! Saturday, January 26, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Woodlands Discovery in Central Park – Explore the North Woods with a Discovery Kit geared toward kids ages 8-12. Binoculars, a hand lens and flora/fauna guides provided help inspire woodland adventures in the wilds of Central Park. Friday-Sunday, January 25-27, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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NYC Sustainable Weekend Recommendations

Greening the Apple’s weekend recommendations are back for 2013! Start the year off on a green foot with some of these activities!

Electronic Waste Recycling at Tekserve— The Lower East Side Ecology Center is bringing one of its 10th Annual “After the Holidays” E-waste Events to Tekserve in Chelsea to help you responsibly recycle  all of your unwanted or broken gadgets. Spread the word to your friends and neighbors! Saturday, January 19, 10:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m.

Emergency Preparedness Training in Prospect Park— Whether you are preparing for an extended journey through the woods or just want to be more prepared for any situation, an emergency preparedness program is perfect for you. Let the Urban Park Rangers help prepare you for the unexpected. Sunday, January 20, 1:00 p.m.

Health & Race Walking in Central Park— Still looking to turn over a new leaf in 2013? Join other New Yorkers as you get fit and enjoy Central Park’s winter landscapes. Saturday, January 19, 9:30 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

Ice Skating in Van Cortland Park— If you haven’t been to the ice rink in Van Cortland Park this winter, what are you waiting for? Saturdays, 12:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m., Sundays, 12:00 p.m.—8:00 p.m.

Tropical Paradise at the NY Botanical Gardens— Want to get out of the cold? Check out the Botanical Garden’s “Tropical Paradise,” featuring orange-yellow crotons, fuchsia bromeliads and more! You’ll feel like you’re on a tropical vacation without having to leave the City! Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00—6:00 p.m.

Winter Constellations and Stargazing— Winter’s long nights provide ample opportunity to stare into the sky and see stars.  Learn to recognize the constellations of winter, and then gaze into the night sky on the lawn in front of the Greenbelt Conservancy’s Nature Center to see which constellations you can find.  Registration required. Sunday, January 20, 5:30 p.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New York City, Then and Now

The Documerica Returns Traveling Exhibit is on display in New York City! You can view the exhibit in the lobby of 290 Broadway, New York, NY through January 18.

From January 22 – February 5 the exhibit will be with Rutgers University in the G.H. Cook Campus Center.

Documerica and New York City

We invite you to share scenes of New York today for State of the Environment. Or just simply reflect and enjoy this blast to the past. You can also match any Documerica scenes as they exist today to be a part of the Documerica Then and Now Challenge.

DOCUMERICA: Sustenance for the Inner Man at the Sheepshead Bay Annual Art Show 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

Three photographers contributed a great deal of images from this area, more of which we have highlighted below.

Arthur Tress
From the National Archives: “Arthur Tress’ photographs of the general New York Harbor area, including Staten Island, include some of the most startling images of unchecked pollution and environmental decay in and around urban areas during the early 1970s.” View his album on on Flickr

Wil Blanche
Wil Blanche’s DOCUMERICA assignment took him to New York City and Westchester County where he took pictures of landfills, water pollution and the rapidly changing Lower Manhattan skyline. Among his photographs are images of the newly completed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.” View his album on Flickr

Danny Lyon
While on assignment for DOCUMERICA, Danny Lyon captured striking images of inner city American life of the early 1970s, including neighborhoods in El Paso, Houston, Galveston, Chicago, and the boroughs of New York City.” View his album on Flickr

DOCUMERICA: Sheepshead Bay 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

DOCUMERICA: Garbage Is Covered by One Foot of Earth in Croton Landfill Operation along the Hudson River 08/1973 by Wil Blanche.

DOCUMERICA: Battery Park Waterfront, Lower Manhattan. Staten Island Ferry in Background 05/1973 by Wil Blanche.

DOCUMERICA: Parking Lot at Ferry Dock on Staten Island 05/1973 by Arthur Tress.

*Re-posted from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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An Intern’s Inspiration

EPA photo/Kasia Broussalian

By Kasia Broussalian 

Greening the Apple has come a long way in the nearly two years since its inception. Back then, there were three of us—and me just an intern—crafting ideas for a blog in the public affairs office of Region 2.  Still a new concept for federal government agencies, our blog proposal was answered with a few confused looks. But after its launch in March 2011, our plan to tell the green side of New York City inspired others across the public sector, including myself. I took much of what I learned while at the EPA with me; guiding my current project as the host of Research Radio, a podcast series from The New School in New York.

My interest in the environment started in college. As a photojournalism student at the University of Colorado, I focused most of my school projects and freelance work on water issues in the western United States. I spent a few months traveling the Colorado River, hopping over divots in a potato field in the Teton Valley of Idaho, and on a horse-drawn sleigh feeding cattle with a rancher on the Yampa River in Colorado. All of which prompted me to intern at EPA while finishing my Master’s degree. Now as a writer at The New School—where a great environmental studies program offers many exciting ventures that engage with the world around us—I’m still trying to find new ways to tell stories about the green side of the city. This time, it’s through a radio podcast with one of the university’s professors. (Read below for an episode summary, as well as a link to the podcast).

Million Trees NYC (EPA photo/Kasia Broussalian)

When it comes to the competition for real estate between nature and New York, many assume that nature lost years ago, when the boroughs’ green forest was steadily edged out by concrete.  However, those dubbing the city as a concrete jungle need a reality check; New York has a wild side—an amazing array of diverse plants and creatures often overlooked in this metropolis—and it’s not entirely by accident. Initiatives like PLANYC’s Million Trees NYC project actively work to promote and maintain the city as an ecological hot spot.

This effort is the topic of Research Radio’s latest podcast, “The City’s Jungles; Not Quite Concrete.” Research Radio recently met with Timon McPhearson, assistant professor of ecology at The New School for Public Engagement.  McPhearson, whose research focuses on urban ecosystems, has been spending his summers and falls in the city’s parks. People may connect the Big Apple with iconic landmarks like the Empire State building and Rockefeller Center, but its heart is still green.

For the past three years, McPhearson and his students have been measuring tree growth and management practices in collaboration with the city’s Million Trees NYC initiative. Though the project’s main goal is to plant a million trees by 2017, another is to create a more sustainable and diverse urban forest. McPhearson’s lab documents the initiative’s progress not only on the health of the newly planted trees, but also on whether levels of biodiversity are increasing.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Eco-Friendly Weekend Activities – Special Holiday Edition!

It’s that time of year again! We want to wish everyone a fun and sustainable holiday season. Since the world didn’t end when the Mayan calendar said it would, we compiled some extra suggestions for how to spend your time in the New York City area for the rest of December. See you next year!

Christmas Morning Bike Ride: Neither rain nor snow nor holiday will keep the Five Borough Bike Club from their ride through three states. Approximately four hours of great fun and comradeship. George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, 178th St. at Ft. Washington Ave, Manhattan, 45 miles, C-14 pace. Ride ends at the Willis Ave Bridge in the Bronx. Leaders: Jesse Brown and Rodney Millard. Call 917-578-2244 with inquiries. Tuesday, December 25, 8:30 a.m. (see link above for other options available).

Ice Skate at Van Cortlandt Park: The caption says it all! Open daily during the holiday season.

Holiday Open House at the Queens County Farm Museum: Warm up the winter season with mulled cider, tours of our decorated historic farmhouse, and craft activities for children. The event takes place from Monday, December 26th until Wednesday, December 28th and is free of charge.

Midnight Run in Central Park – Celebrate the New Year with a toast to your health by participating in a four mile annual fun run. Monday, December 31, 10 p.m.

Needlecrafts: Before video games, movies, and television, indoor games and projects helped pass the long winter days. At Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, you can try your hand at needlepoint! Wednesday, December 26, 1:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.

Presents to the Animals – It’s the last chance to see animals at the Prospect Park Zoo pounce on their presents of treat-filled bags and boxes. Saturday and Sunday, December 29-30, 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Volunteer – For many New Yorkers, it’s been a very tough year. Rather than just donating money, there are many ways you can donate time or other services. We’ve provided several ways you can get involved to help make sure that 2013 is a better year for everyone. (Note: The following list does not reflect EPA policy or endorsement.)

City Harvest – From nutrition education to food distribution, help make sure that all New Yorkers get well fed this holiday season.

Disaster Response – New York Cares is perhaps the city’s largest volunteer organization. Check out their special activities targeted toward ongoing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

Friends of Firefighters – Volunteer to help firefighters and their families who may need extra support this holiday season.

Holiday Volunteer Projects – Several food prep and package delivery activities for individuals, families and large groups.

NYC Service – Launched by the mayor, this citywide initiative helps coordinate volunteer initiatives.

Occupy Sandy Recovery – Sign up for volunteer opportunities with this on the ground organization.

Red Hook Initiative – Help out in this Brooklyn neighborhood that was affected by the recent storm.

Roberto Clemente Park Cleanup – Head to the Bronx to volunteer at this ongoing park cleanup opportunity. Wednesday, January 2, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Volunteer in Staten Island – Some of the communities in Staten Island are going to be recovering from Sandy for a long time. Target your time in a hard-hit area by checking out this extensive list.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.