New Life for the Bronx and Harlem Rivers

By Cyndy Kopitsky

EPA and the U.S. Department of the Interior have identified the Bronx and the Harlem Rivers as two priority areas in New York. As a result, exciting things are happening! But, first a little geography lesson.

The Bronx River, the only fresh water in New York City, is approximately 24 miles long and flows through southeast New York State.  The Harlem River is a navigable tidal strait in New York City that flows eight miles between the Hudson River and the East River.  The Harlem River is spanned by seven swing bridges, three lift bridges and four arch bridges.  The Harlem River forms a part of the Hudson estuary system, serving as a narrow strait that divides the island of Manhattan from the Bronx.

Three of the bridges that cross the Harlem River are: the High Bridge (a now-closed pedestrian bridge); the Alexander Hamilton Bridge (part of Interstate 95); and the Washington Bridge. In this photo, looking north, the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is on the left and the Bronx is on the right.

Here’s where the fun comes in – in an effort to improve water quality, make public access safe and restore the watersheds and ecosystems, federal and local partners have initiated a number of projects.  I am always inspired to see when there is success in our “urban” community activities that manage to span from the Long Island Sound to the Delaware Estuary and across the east coast to the Caribbean, all contributing to the partnership.

One is the Bronx Youth Urban Forestry Empowerment program for low-income and minority youth which was created in partnership by “Trees of NY” and the USDA Forest Service. This project provides underserved youth from the Bronx sustained, hands-on education in tree care, tree identification, tree pit gardening, tree inventory and park land habitat restoration, outdoor recreational activities and two service learning projects.

The oyster population, once plentiful, has suffered a major decline due to pollution.  Improvement has been seen in the last 10 years although they remain unsafe to eat. Oysters play a major role in filtering and help to create a better habitat.  Many federal and local agencies are working in partnership to create an oyster reef, a better place for oysters to live.  I have a special interest in this type of project and I hope to be able to visit the area, not far from my home town.

The Park Service, the Harlem River Working Group and city and state agencies are working to develop a greenway along the Bronx side of the Harlem River and are planning to increase access which is currently limited along both rivers.

The EPA NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program is funding an effort to design plans for passage of migratory fish at two Bronx River dams and The Harlem River Working Group is planning a big event at Roberto Clemente State Park (RCSP) October 15th – 20th.  The main goal is to highlight the fact the RCSP is the ONLY point on the Bronx side of the Harlem River that has the immediate potential to provide boating access to the river.  The National Park Service will be providing a small amount of funding to help with programming the event and the State is on board to provide logistical support and host the event. The plan is to get 500 to 600 Bronx students out on the river Monday through Friday and then hold a community-wide celebration that Saturday.  Several of us have been invited to talk with the Park Service about ways to assure a large turn-out at this upcoming event.

All in all, lots of activity in support of these two important urban waterways. For more information, visit

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky is the Urban Waters Program Coordinator out of EPA’s office in Manhattan. In this capacity Cyndy works closely with the EPA Region 2 staff and managers to engage them in the Urban Water Program activities which include a grant program and the pilot projects. The pilot projects are often cooperative efforts with other federal agencies. Cyndy is a far commuter and resident of Cape May County in the southern most point of New Jersey. With her background in advertising and environmental education, working with communities for Cyndy is a “natural fit.”

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