In the 1870s Frederick Law Olmsted was in the midst of designing a lovely green space above the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — Riverside Park. Over 60 years later, Robert Moses covered the railroad tracks, built the Rotunda, extended the park to the waterfront, and developed its recreation areas. Expansion south of 72nd Street began in the 1990s. Today, the Riverside Park we enjoy is more than 330 acres of beautiful parkland from 59th to 155th Street.
Nestled in this expanse of land between the Hudson and Riverside Drive are several distinct levels. Beginning with the Drive, the park descends down the slope of the retaining wall into the landscaped park, finally reaching the active recreation area.
Each of the levels has a distinct character and hosts specific activities. A canopy of majestic trees, one of North America’s most significant remaining cultivated stands of American Elms, envelops Riverside Drive. This serpentine boulevard offers frequent opportunities for viewing the Hudson River Valley and lower park. The apartment-lined thoroughfare is separated from the next level by the retaining wall on which it is supported.
The steep, sloping hills of the scenic park’s upper promenade can be descended by steps, ramps and meandering walks. In the wintertime, a quicker route is often chosen, as the hills offer an ideal environment for sledding.
With winding paths, rock outcrops and a naturalistic appearance, this landscaped level represents the most intact area of Olmstedian design within the park. It is also host to five of the park’s 15 playgrounds. From elephants and hippos shooting water, to a sandbox surrounded by fantasy figures and a replica of the Hudson River, the features of these facilities delight toddlers and older children alike.
The middle Promenade, the entranceway to the park’s lowest level and shoreline, was created when the tracks of the railroad were decked over in the 1930s. Strollers particularly enjoy the volunteer-maintained gardens at 83rd Street, The Garden People’s plantings at 91st Street and the allée of sycamore and London Plane-trees from 101st to 110th Street. A community garden inside the park at 138th Street delights those who discover it.
The Cherry Walk extends along the river from 100th to 125th Street. In 1909 the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York presented 2,000 cherry trees as a gift to the City. Some surviving trees of the original planting of 700, part of the same batch of trees planted in Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin, can be found along this stretch of Riverside Park.
Connecting the Esplanade, Riverwalk runs parallel with the Henry Hudson Parkway from 83rd Street to 91st Street. The construction of the Riverwalk path in 2010 provided the final phase of the Riverside Park waterfront connection, creating river access for the entire length of Riverside Park.