BRONX RIVER — If Bronx River expert Devona Sharpe agrees to show you around New York City’s only freshwater river, come ready for some surprises.
About a third of the river's 23 miles run through the center of The Bronx.
But, if you come expecting nothing but industrial yards, you're in for a shock.
On a recent tour with the greenway coordinator for the nonprofit Bronx River Alliance, DNAinfo New York saw stretches of tree-canopied trails perfect for walking or pedaling, lush parks ideal for picnicking or pick-up sports games and even a flowing “blueway,” a water trail that winds through an ancient gorge before merging with the East River.
“Come with an open mind,” Sharpe advised would-be visitors, “and get lost in the beautiful scenery.”
Below are some land and water trails along the Bronx River that Sharpe insists every New Yorker should explore.
Shoelace Park, which extends from East 233rd Street to East 211th Street in the north Bronx, is a perfect starting point for a journey along the river.
The narrow one-and-a-half-mile ribbon of parkland runs along a segment of the river that Robert Moses straightened during a period of highway construction in the 1950s.
Before that, the linear park was part of one of the country’s oldest parkways, completed in 1925 and designed for restless New Yorkers to cruise along in their newfangled automobiles.
“This is where the old Model T’s used to drive,” said Sharpe.
Ideal for: Bikers, runners
Highlight: Straight path, across the river from Woodlawn Cemetery
Bronx River Forest surrounds the river at the north end of the massive, 718-acre Bronx Park, which encompasses the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo.
Historic Burke Bridge allows pedestrians to cross over the river and wander through what is one of the last remaining old-growth forests in the city, where oaks, red maple-hardwoods and river birches cast shadows over mallards and muskrats.
Standing on the bridge, “You have gorgeous views of the river,” said Sharpe. “There’s nothing like it.”
To the south, at Bronx Park East and Britton Street, sits a new skate park and synthetic-turf soccer field.
Ideal for: Hikers, athletes
Highlight: Burke Bridge; just north of the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo
Soundview Park hugs the southeast shore of the Bronx River, where it opens into the East River.
The 205-acre park, built atop a landfill, is crammed with a more than a dozen baseball fields and basketball and handball courts, along with a cricket pitch, running track and soccer field.
In June, the city broke ground on $15 million in new facilities for the park, including rubberized running track, a synthetic-turf soccer field, a playground and an outdoor amphitheater.
Still, Sharpe prefers strolling or biking on the park’s mile-long path alongside the river, which here is filled with saltwater.
“It feels like you’re out on the ocean,” said Sharpe.
Ideal for: Bikers, athletes
Highlights: A variety of athletic fields
Many portions of the river are suited for canoeing or kayaking, but Sharpe suggests the stretch of water from Concrete Plant Park in Longwood south to Hunts Point Riverside Park.
Concrete Plant Park, for decades an active concrete plant, now welcomes visitors with a waterfront promenade, choice spots to fish for bass and bluefish, a restored salt marsh and lounge chairs and chess tables made of — what else? — concrete.
In a kayak or canoe, visitors can launch off from the park, paddle underneath the Bruckner Expressway, pass working recycling yards on the west bank of the river, dodge the occasional barge and port at Hunts Point Riverside Park.
When that park opened in 2006, it gave Hunts Point residents their first access to the waterfront in six decades, transforming a trash-strewn dead-end street into an oasis just north of one of the largest food distribution centers in the world.
Paddling between the two parks lets “people see a working waterfront,” said Sharpe, “and how these different groups,” the residents and the workers, “have to learn to coexist with each other.”
Ideal for: Kayakers, canoers, fishers
Highlight: Serene parks set against gritty industrial yards