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The best thing about moving to a new neighborhood is exploring. A few weeks ago, I dove into the depths of Inwood Hill Park, a 200-acre park at the northwestern tip of Manhattan, about ten blocks north of my apartment. I’d heard, “Be careful, it’s lightly traveled, be alert.” But I finally got fed up with being worried about what might or might not happened if I went for a walk. So who did I meet? Dog walkers, some joggers, couples on romantic strolls and a dad taking his toddler for a walk. Not so fearsome after all! InForest2

Best of all, I discovered a fantastic new place.

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This is a thickly forested park, hilly and rocky, and contains the last old growth forest in Manhattan. It’s full of birds and small mammals, secluded and beautiful. Just the place to take a walk to clear your head.

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Inwood Hill Park is shaped like a big comma. Here it is seen from the north, with the Hudson River on the right (west) and the Harlem River at the bottom of the photo (north). Henry Hudson Bridge is in the foreground, connecting Manhattan to the Bronx. The rest of Manhattan stretches south into the distance. The area where the two rivers join is home to the last saltwater marsh in Manhattan, which attracts diverse bird life.

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Although the Henry Hudson Parkway runs right through the park, you wouldn’t know it. It’s separated from the rest of the park by a cliff, which muffles the sound if you’re in the valley to the east. A few ballfields and meadows are the only landscaped areas in the park. As you can see, it’s almost completely forested. This photo shows how unexpectedly green Upper Manhattan is!

Here’s a short video I shot of the old growth forest, with a few details of its history.

There’s a long legacy of Native American tribes in this area. As legend has it, the agreement that passed Manhattan from the Lenape Indians to the Dutch (in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 guilders) was made here in 1626. The Lenape, an Algonquin tribe, are the original New Yorkers, and lived here for about 10,000 years before the Europeans showed up and ruined everything for them. “Manhattan” is derived from the Lenape “Mannahatta,” which means, “Island of Many Hills.”

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Here’s a look at the “Indian Caves,” in the valley that’s now called The Clove. The Indian Caves aren’t really caves, they’ve more like overhangs, and were probably used for resting, not living. Bits of pottery and detritus from hunting have been found here.

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The topography is a result of shifting glaciers.

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There are at least three freshwater springs in the park, and the high canopy, dense underbrush, extensive shelter and lack of predators make it ideal for wildlife. This is a prime birding spot in Manhattan, especially during migration, since the thick forest is perfect for resting and foraging. Over 200 species either live here or pass through annually. Small mammals love it here, too. Skunks, raccoons, bats, groundhogs and lots of squirrels and other small rodents are common. I’m still hoping to see a rabbit. The forest is lightly traveled by people, and dogs are not allowed off the leash.

Here’s a link to the NYC Audubon site if you’d like to know more about birding in this park.

Even under the Henry Hudson Bridge, it’s beautiful. Some paths are cut into the cliffs and take you high above the rivers.

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Kids in the Bronx jump off this cliff into the Harlem river. The C is for Columbia University, which has a campus nearby. This is the point where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet.

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As I began exploring Inwood Hill Park, I started reading a fantastic book that helped me learn about Manhattan’s ecological history, “Mannahatta” by Eric W. Sanderson. It’s an amazing resource, investigating the biological diversity that flourished here before the city developed.

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The best part about Inwood Hill Park is that it’s simply here, that this forest actually survived. It’s great to know that if I need a break from the city, I can wander through the woods for a little while and experience a whole different kind of Manhattan.

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