Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Exploring NYC's Shores with the Shorewalkers

Me along the East River, with Manhattan Bridge behind me as I walk the Union Square Shuffle

Manhattan is a city of walkers. The sidewalks are always overcrowded with people walking to work, walking to dinner, walking to do errands, walking to parks, walking everywhere. Walking is not a just a leisurely exercise activity - here it is the way to get from point A to B. That's why New Yorkers walk so fast.

Still with a city of millions of professional walkers, we often ignore our waterfronts. Many people have never explored the perimeter on foot. Granted up until the past decade the edges of Manhattan were grimy, often unsafe and (unusual for Manhattan) inaccessible by foot. But this excuse is no longer valid. Though cafes, shops and friendly neighborhoods have not yet ventured to the edges of the island, the city has taken big steps in the recent years to complete construction of a connecting ring of parks around the entire island. Battery Park connects seamlessly to Hudson River Park, then Riverside Park, then Ft. Washington Park, then Ft. Tyron Park, Inwood Park, etc. The path is a bit sketchier on the East Side, especially up north and then around the U.N. area, but by the 30's it picks up strong again and flows into East River Park, then back down to Battery Park.

I just discovered Shorewalkers, a wonderful club that organizes informal group walks all around the various shores of the New York metro area. They concentrate on shorelines, but plenty of the tours also include various neighborhoods. Anyone can participate in a walking tour, you do not have to be a member (non-members pay $3 per walk).

This past Saturday I just joined a Shorewalker group for the Union Square Shuffle. It was a 6 hour walk, starting at Union Square and continuing through the Village, East Village, then walking the perimeter park path around Manhattan from east 6th street all the way around the tip of Manhattan and then up the Hudson and ending at the newly opened Highline. We also took an excursion to Governor's Island (on the free ferry), as well as stopped along the way at various landmarks, exhibitions and historic monuments. The leader focused on free events and packed the tour with announcements of all the many free concerts, events, and freebies being offered at various places throughout the summer. I estimate we walked 16 miles in all.

There are organized Shorewalker events every week this summer covering the NJ Hudson shores to Brighton Beach and Coney Island (See their Hike Calendar on their website). Their biggest event of the year is The Great Saunter, where they walk the entire perimeter of Manhattan, starting and ending at the South Street Seaport. An all day walk, covering 32 miles it is an extreme event but which I am sure many experienced New York walkers could handle. The Shorewalker group is a participatory group, and if you become a member you can start organizing and leading your own tours through areas you know well. (Becoming a member is only $20). If you have never walked along the New York shorelines, trying a walk with a Shorewalker group is an easy and rewarding way to begin exploring the waterfronts.

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