Riverside Park Conservancy Announces Its Largest-Ever Summer on the Hudson Line-up Featuring Over 300 Free Events

April 11, 2024

Summer on the Hudson, a joint program of Riverside Park Conservancy and NYC Parks, will return in full swing on May 1, 2024. Now in its 22nd year, this outdoor arts and culture festival will feature over 300 free events and programs at multiple locations along the west side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 181st Street, through October.  

Since its founding more than two decades ago, Summer on the Hudson has grown from a handful of small events to a major season-long affair that draws thousands of New Yorkers into the park to see local artists, dance, play, learn and get in shape. 

This year’s robust line-up includes returning favorites like the Silent Discos at Pier I in Riverside Park South, as well as new offerings in North Riverside Park and Fort Washington Park. Boasting something for everyone, the full calendar features live music and dance performances, children’s shows, educational workshops, special day-long festivals, fitness activities, and much more. 

Visitors of all ages celebrate summer during Summer on the Hudson’s popular West Side County Fair at Pier I.

An array of newly added uptown events is part of Riverside Park Conservancy’s increasing focus on volunteer stewardship, park equity and community partnerships. This season, parkgoers can enjoy movie screenings on the Hudson River waterfront at 145th Street each Thursday in August, as well as Sunset Yoga, and a Black Birders Week birding walk hosted in partnership with NYC Audubon. Returning events include Fort Washington Park’s beloved Little Red Lighthouse Festival and World Fish Migration Day at the 172nd Street beach. 

“Summer on the Hudson is one of the best ways to enjoy summer in New York City.” said Merritt Birnbaum, President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. “The breadth of our program offerings ensures that you’ll find something unique and engaging for every age, interest and physical ability – whether you’re a nature lover, a science geek, a fitness buff or a live music fan. My favorite thing about the festival is how joyful and truly diverse it is. This year, we’re thrilled to be able to bring new event activations to our natural shoreline at 145th Street. As we prepare to confront another summer of soaring temperatures, these beautiful shaded, breezy areas along the water’s edge are a lifeline for New Yorkers looking to stay active outside while beating the heat.” 

“At Parks, we are dedicated to fostering unity and community, and this free outdoor arts and culture festival is a great representation of that commitment. By extending Summer on the Hudson’s free community events and activities uptown, we’re helping New Yorkers enjoy our parks to the fullest,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “It is so important that New York City park visitors have access to high-quality, free public programming — whether it’s watching a movie under the stars or taking part in educational workshops… Initiatives like Summer on the Hudson inspire individuals of all ages to embrace recreation, connect with nature, and explore new experiences in our beautiful public parks.” 

Whitney Dearden, Director of Public Programming for Riverside Park Conservancy, is the curator for Summer on the Hudson. Her latest work focuses on bringing in more local artists and organizations from the many diverse neighborhoods bordering Riverside Park. “This year’s festival features over 300 free events, our largest season to date,” she remarked. “We’re thrilled to continue offering perennial favorites while expanding the variety of our uptown programs in order to provide high-quality arts and culture experiences to all New Yorkers.”  

Some of this year’s featured local performers include the world-renowned Limón Dance Company, a modern dance institution headquartered in Sugar Hill; the Harlem-based rock band Granite Garden; The Hot Toddies, a fun-loving hot jazz and swing band hailing from the Upper West Side; “Lady” Cantrese Alloway, a Harlem grown jazz vocalist; and Washington Heights-based performance storyteller, Rachael Harrington.  

“Last summer we had a great time presenting Latin jazz at Riverside Park South, and swing at West Harlem Piers – everyone had so much fun, there was no reason not to do it again,” said Will Glass, Program Director for the Jazz Foundation of America. “Our musicians thrive on the energy that audiences give them, and in Riverside Park, with music lovers settling in between the greenway and the river, the energy is always great.” 

Popular events in Riverside Park South and West Harlem Piers Park will also return, including Pier I (‘eye’) fan favorites: the New York City Irish Dance Festival, the West Side County Fair, and Movies Under the Stars. Opportunities for “edutainment” include stargazing with the Amateur Astronomers Association, a catch-and-release Fishing Clinic in partnership with the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, Monuments Tours with the New York Historical Society, and Horticulture Tours with Riverside Park Conservancy gardeners (available for the first time in Spanish). 

“Films on the Green is thrilled to return to the iconic Riverside Park this summer with free French movies on the pier,” said Mohamed Bouabdallah, Cultural Counselor of France in the United States and Director of Villa Albertine. “With a legacy of organizing screenings in Riverside Park since 2011 as part of the Summer on the Hudson program, we aim to kindle the vibrant energy that brings people together around a shared love of cinema, cultural diversity, and the outdoors.”  

“Summer on the Hudson has something for everyone, whether you’re a lifelong Manhattanite or just visiting. Pairing the beauty of Riverside Park with our local arts and culture scene makes for one of the best summer event calendars in the city,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “I’m grateful to the Riverside Park Conservancy for all they do to provide fantastic and free programming all summer long.” 

“I have never been more excited for summer in Uptown Manhattan,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu. “The Conservancy has outdone themselves again with this jam-packed calendar of free, world-class programming along the Hudson River. This is New York City at its very best.” 

“Summer on the Hudson programs are one of the highlights of a West Side Summer—making Riverside Park even more enjoyable,” said Council Member Gale A. Brewer. “From music and dance to DJs and kid’s shows, the Conservancy and NYC Parks have plans to make Summer 2024 the best yet.” 

“The importance and benefits of access to open-air spaces and community-building for the physical and mental health of New Yorkers cannot be understated,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “We are proud to have Riverside Park Conservancy in our backyard, offering free summer programming to our Uptown families.” 

Parkgoers enjoy free fitness and wellness opportunities in nature in a West Harlem Piers Park class.

As part of its efforts to highlight and fundraise for more free public programming in the park, Riverside Park Conservancy is transforming its traditional annual spring benefit into a “launch party” for the Summer on the Hudson 2024 season. Scheduled for June 5 in Sakura Park, the new ticketed event will feature local artists and performers while raising important funds for the Conservancy’s public programming and landscape stewardship operations. Information about this event can be found at riversideparknyc.org/revue.  

Fans are encouraged to follow Summer on the Hudson and the Conservancy’s social media platforms closely for details regarding weather cancellations, new pop-up events, and more. 

Riverside Park Conservancy 
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About Riverside Park Conservancy

From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

NYC Audubon and Riverside Park Conservancy | April 8, 2024

Torie Bolster entered the world of birding just last year, and, like many West Side birders this spring migration, she’s keeping her eyes open to spot Cuckoos, Flycatchers, Warblers, Tanagers, and Orioles inside Riverside Park—which could be considered her office. As Riverside Park Conservancy’s Conservation Crew Leader, and now leader of the RPC Birding Club, Bolster has prime access to the six-mile-long bird haven. 

Unfortunately, until very recently, Riverside Park struggled with a collision problem. Collisions are a leading cause of death for wild birds and kill an estimated one billion birds across the United States each year. Birds cannot perceive glass as a barrier, but rather see reflections of sky or surrounding vegetation before fatally striking a building’s windows. Like with so many buildings in New York City, birds were striking the windows of the Peter Jay Sharp Volunteer House in Riverside Park, meeting an early death. Because of these collisions, Torie Bolster began a concentrated collision route around the Volunteer House, where she’d find and discard dead birds.  

“My first time seeing a Fox Sparrow, it was dead,” said Bolster. “My first lifer and it was deceased.” 

The Riverside Park Volunteer House is a 100-year-old limestone building that sits rather majestically at the W. 107th block of the park. The second floor houses the Evelyn Sharp Meeting Room, the ambiance of which has been likened to that of a treehouse with panoramic windows of the surrounding tree canopy and Hudson River.

The second floor of the Volunteer House has panoramic windows of the surrounding tree canopy. Photo courtesy of MBB Architects.

“It’s a beautiful building with those big glass windows,” said Nina Webb, a Riverside Park Conservancy Field Supervisor. “We love this building as people who can look out those windows. But it was always at a big cost.” 

Webb has volunteered for NYC Audubon’s Project Safe Flight for over two decades, as a collision monitor and one of the first 9/11 Memorial Tribute in Light monitors, and now as a member of the Injured Bird Transport team. While collision carnage was nothing new for Webb, it now became standard for Conservancy staff as well, who would receive updates on dead and injured birds in their work chat.

“During lunch, volunteers would hear birds bang against the windows,” shared Oliver Lopez, a Conservancy Gardener in the Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary, located nearby. 

Park Gardeners with the additional task of rescuing wildlife—like the occasional groundhog stuck in a fence or abandoned baby squirrel—would often arrive at the Volunteer House when it was too late to save any collision victims. 

“It’s been very stressful to see the birds completely and needlessly have these collisions,” said Webb. “We’ve been wanting this for a really long time, and it’s a tremendous relief.”  

Webb and Bolster decided the Conservancy could—and should—make a change on their home turf. They advocated for a bird-friendly retrofit, and in 2023, the Conservancy reached out to NYC Audubon to consult on the frequency of collisions at their Volunteer House and ask what could be done to make a change.

The Threat of Collisions

Every spring and fall, millions of birds migrate through New York City, journeying along the “Atlantic Flyway” from wintering territory in South and Central America to breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Circle. As this huge variety of birds—from songbirds to raptors, hummingbirds, and shorebirds—repeat their ancient cycle of migration, they encounter two relatively new threats: glass windows and artificial nighttime lighting. 

This encounter proves deadly: according to NYC Audubon’s research, between 90,000 and 230,000 of these migrating birds are killed in New York City each year due to collisions with building glass. Luckily, solutions do exist and can be implemented on a societal level—and also on an individual scale, like at Riverside Park.

Because of all my experience with NYC Audubon, and reading and learning, I knew there was a solution that needed to be made. I was definitely one of the people who was—agitating to get it done,” Webb laughed. 

In early 2023, Dr. Dustin Partridge, NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science, and Katherine Chen, NYC Audubon Senior Manager of Community Science and Collision Reduction, visited Riverside Park to consult on the Volunteer House, assessing where the collisions occurred most often and explaining how the surrounding canopy made for perilous reflections for the birds. When assessing the risk of windows to birds, it’s important to remember that not all glass is equally hazardous, which is why documenting collisions is critical in finding effective solutions. 

After assessing the area, NYC Audubon suggested a complete retrofit of the Volunteer House windows. As the movement for bird-friendly design has grown, so too have the options for making windows bird-safe, from window screens to parachute cords, painted murals, window decals, and films. One of the most effective solutions is dotted films which can easily be applied in sheets to large windows like at the Volunteer House. With white dots separated at the golden ratio of two inches apart, the simple dots suddenly make the glass visible to birds, reducing damaging and fatal collisions. (Read about other NYC bird-friendly building retrofits here.)

Riverside Park Conservancy chose Feather Friendly, a Toronto-based company that offers commercial, residential, and even DIY installation options to help spread the solution for preventing bird collisions around the world. Installations are minimally obstructive, allowing humans to still fully see out windows while also ensuring the birds flying by recognize the windows and will not collide into them.

With a large crane just before the start of Spring, and in collaboration with Feather Friendly, the Conservancy successfully implemented bird-friendly window film at the Volunteer House in March 2024.

“When our team first brought my attention to the frequency of bird collisions at the Volunteer House, I understood the gravity of the situation, as well as the opportunity for us to be a leader in demonstrating safe alternatives,” said Merritt Birnbaum, President and CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. “I suggested they reach out to the experts at NYC Audubon to find the best solution.” Birnbaum added, “While the cost of the bird-friendly retrofit was not insignificant, it’s an essential investment that fits squarely within our mission to repair, maintain, and improve Riverside Park. Protecting bird life isn’t a secondary choice; it’s integral to achieving a healthy and sustainable park ecosystem.”

“I suspect this retrofit will help to protect some of the most vulnerable yet charismatic birds we have: Warblers,” said Partridge. Riverside Park is full of native trees and a developed canopy—something relatively rare in the City—and many Warblers rely on this type of habitat for foraging during spring migration. 

“The windows in the Volunteer House are near canopy level and presented a serious threat to warblers—that threat has now been removed,” said Partridge.

And the benefit isn’t only for the birds. “We hope this will be the start of passive and active programming around protecting wildlife,” says Bolster. Whether visitors notice the bird-friendly windows while on a jog, or a guide points them out during naturalist walks, Bolster hopes they’ll take notice and learn. 

“[The film] doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, and even if you notice it, it’s such a great conversation starter.”

Nat Xu, a Conservancy Gardener often tasked with rescuing wildlife in Riverside Park, was one of the most excited on staff to see the retrofit completed. “[The Volunteer House] is so embedded in the wildlife and trees around here. It’s a central hub, and having this be a park initiative is amazing. It gives me some relief that the birds will be safe.”   

Originally from Wisconsin, Xu previously pressured the City of Madison Plan Commission to build with bird-safe glass. “When you can make a change, like making a building bird-safe, it seems like a no-brainer to protect these animals,” they said.

Holistic bird-friendly design 

In the modern age, as we think about bird-friendly design, we often think of daunting NYC skyscrapers and green infrastructure solutions like bird-safe glass and green roofs. But human beings share the planet with millions of other species. Over our time here on earth, we have altered ecosystems—and thus, the lives and evolutionary trajectories of countless other species—in extraordinary ways. From filling waterways and paving over land, building enormous highways and buildings, and constructing underground railways and sewer systems, the aggressive development of urban landscapes has resulted in extreme alterations and disruption to ecological processes. The abundance of reflective windows and perilous glass is only part of that story.

“Habitat fragmentation” is exactly what it sounds like. Urban planning choices have resulted in isolated pockets of green and blue spaces, which become separated by impervious surfaces, busy roads, and built structures. This lack of connection—and, in New York City, the alarmingly compromised conditions of these areas—results in hindered ability for wildlife to access food or shelter. This fragmentation can also limit the gene pool of a species, which causes more vulnerability to disease and less ability for future generations to evolve and adapt to changing environments over time. 

When offered the dignity of adequate investment and holistic stewardship practices, New York City’s urban parks and waterfronts hold incredible resilience and potential to function in harmony with humans while supporting biodiversity and healthy habitats. Riverside Park is a prime example of a waterfront park that plays a key role in the lives and survival of birds and other wildlife. 

Situated along the Hudson River, the Park spans from 59th St. to 181st St. but is also part of the Atlantic Flyway. Every year birds migrate up and down this flyway following food sources, breeding grounds, or traveling to overwintering sites. Riverside Park plays an important role in this migratory journey as a landscape that provides extensive forest edges and lawn spaces for birds to eat, drink, bathe, and rest. The bird-friendly glass at the Volunteer House, while an incredibly important investment for New York City wild birds, is only a part of the larger picture to maintain biodiversity and support conservation for Riverside Park Conservancy. 

As a haven for a variety of bird species—including Red-Tailed Hawks, Owls, Warblers, and many additional flying creatures—the Conservancy sets an example for other parks and green space managers in NYC because threat reduction, like making windows bird-safe, should always go along with habitat improvement, installation, or management in urban areas. Some examples of this urban green management include The Bird Sanctuary, located in the Forever Wild Forest at approximately 120th Street and Riverside Drive, which features a man-made water source fondly known as The Drip, a critical feature in Manhattan where most natural water sources have been paved over. The Conservancy also worked with The Neighborhood Cat Rescue to reduce the feral cat population, in addition to implementing native plant species to help rebuild critical wildlife habitat. 

“Riverside Park Conservancy takes sustainability and conservation seriously,” said Dr. Partridge, NYC Audubon. “The views from the Volunteer House are now a powerful example demonstrating that bird-safe design does not detract from a view, rather, it provides a safe way to share a green space with the wildlife that make the views so great.” 

What you can do to build a bird-friendly NYC 

As the Conservancy continues to take steps to protect bird populations, we also encourage individuals to investigate ways they can make their homes and communities more bird-friendly. Protect birds and bird habitat in your neighborhood by adding native plants to your garden. To help reduce collisions, report dead and injured birds to dBird.org and help build NYC Audubon’s dataset to make systematic changes to help build a bird-safe City. If you see an injured bird, please bring it to the Wild Bird Fund, or keep it contained before reaching out to [email protected]. Turn off your lights during migration season (April – June, August – November). And most importantly, speak up and work to make a change!

Looking to get involved with New York City’s birding community and learn more about flying wildlife in the Park and beyond? We invite you to join Riverside Park Conservancy team members, Torie Bolster and Marcus Carceres, who lead free, monthly birding walks at our Birding Club, in addition to the hundreds of NYC Audubon bird outings that take place across all five boroughs, most of which are free.

About Riverside Park Conservancy

From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

About NYC Audubon

New York City Audubon is a grassroots community that works for the protection of wild birds and habitat, improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. For 45 years, NYC Audubon has championed nature in the City’s five boroughs through a combination of engagement, advocacy, and conservation. Through these efforts, we protect the more than 300 species of birds living in the 30,000 acres of wetlands, forests, and grasslands of New York City.

New York City Council Committee on Parks
Thursday, March 21, 2024
Committee on Parks and Recreation – Preliminary Budget Hearing
Testimony of Riverside Park Conservancy

Good afternoon, my name is Merritt Birnbaum, and I am the President and CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. We are one of over 400 organizations that belong to the Play Fair Coalition. Thank you to Parks Committee Chair Shekar Krishnan for holding this hearing and for his tireless advocacy to tackle the crisis facing our parks.

Riverside Park Conservancy works through an agreement with NYC Parks to help the City care for 450 acres spread across five parks, along 6 miles of waterfront in upper Manhattan from West 59th Street to West 181st Street. We are fortunate to have built a 35-year history that leverages thousands of
hours of volunteer time and significant funding to supplement the City’s dwindling workforce. We recognize that the vast majority of parks in our city do not have the benefit of Conservancy groups. Our situation only underscores how dire the current crisis is for parks in our most vulnerable communities.

Make no mistake: our parks are in crisis. We see it every day in Riverside, Fort Washington, West Harlem Piers, and Sakura as we struggle to keep these parks clean, safe and green.

In June 2008, our district had approximately 79 CPWs or City Parks Workers. This June, we will be lucky if we have 20 of them. CPWs do
everything – from picking up trash, to cleaning bathrooms, to removing graffiti. They are the frontline of the Parks Department, and in our park alone, their ranks have fallen to 25% of what they were 16 years ago. In smaller parks around the City, this type of deficit means we’re not talking about 1 worker per park — we’re talking about a fraction of 1 worker per park.

How can we accept this? Parks are critical infrastructure, and they need to be funded the same way we fund roads, bridges, police, sanitation and hospitals.

In the last five decades, New York City has built 200 new parks. How can our city pride itself on building new parks and not dedicate the resources we need to maintain them?

In 1970, NYC Parks headcount was 11,000. Forty-five years later, and we are looking at a headcount of only 7,000.

A simple math question: How can we have 200 more parks today and 4,000 fewer Parks workers?

How can our government say it prioritizes sanitation and safety and not consider the public parks that occupy 14% of our city’s surface area as needing those funds?

Just this past Sunday in our park, NYC Parks staff who were slated for spring landscape work were pulled away to paint over an incidence of major offensive graffiti in a high-traffic location. They dropped what they were doing and pivoted, because that is what CPWs do – they respond to needs on the ground and they get the work done.

– If we want bathrooms open and clean, we need staff.

– If we want lawns that are green and not filled with rotting trash, we need staff.

– If we want stairs and pathways that are clear of safety hazards, we need staff.

– If we want healthy trees and plants, we need staff.

Our parks are a direct reflection of our City’s commitment to the health and happiness of its residents. We demand that the City fulfil its promise and deliver 1% of our budget to parks. This is a rounding error for you, and a lifeline for all of us.