Waterfront Property

Taking a stroll through Columbia’s new uptown park

By Will Holt

After nearly three years of planning and collaboration between Columbia University and the New York City Parks Department, Muscota Marsh received a muted opening in mid-January.

Located at the northern tip of Manhattan, the public green space and ecological conservation project sits next to Columbia’s Baker Athletic Complex and is in some respects its byproduct. In exchange for extended land rights to build the Campbell Sports Center, the University promised Inwood residents a nature sanctuary.

The park, situated at the corner of West 218th Street and Indian Road, aims to restore a portion of the area’s native marshland and provide increased access to the waterfront along Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River. A sleek, modern-looking boardwalk slopes down from the road toward the marsh, where a gravel path stretches around the shoreline toward the University’s boathouses. For the time being, a network of wooden stakes and orange string stretches over the water, erected to protect the soon-to-be-planted spartina grass from the foraging Canada Geese that will return in the spring.

The word “Muscota” comes from the language of the Lenape, Manhattan’s first inhabitants and the tribe that purportedly sold the island to the Dutch for the 17th  century equivalent of $24. The word means “place in the reeds,” a fitting title considering the site’s unique topography, as well as the nearby caves in Inwood Hill Park that the Lenape once used as summer fishing camps.

James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architecture firm behind the High Line, designed the park after being approached by Columbia in 2008. The area’s unusual blend of a saltwater marsh and a freshwater wetland became the focal point of the design.“

We really wanted to create an ecologically sensitive park that sort of builds on Inwood,” said Karen Tamir, the senior associate from James Corner in charge of the project. “The proximity of freshwater to saltwater is something unique there.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was originally scheduled for the fall of 2012, but Hurricane Sandy flooded the marsh and pushed the park’s expected opening to 2013. According to Tamir, the difficulties of navigating city bureaucracy postponed the opening even further, to January 2014.

“It’s just a matter of working in New York,” she explained. “You have to get all the proper signage, especially for something on the water, which adds yet another complexity.”

Tamir emphasized that the park isn’t exactly finished yet, despite its recent opening. She said there are still more rounds of planting to be completed, and her firm will continue to collaborate with the University as these final steps are put into action. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for the spring.

Despite inclement weather over the last couple of months, Muscota Marsh appears to be getting a fair amount of use. On a given Sunday, one can find local residents enjoying the gorgeous views of Spuyten Duyvil and its rocky cliffs across the water.

“It’s a small ecological gem that’s meant to be part of the life of the neighborhood,” said Tamir. “You don’t get the opportunity to do this in Manhattan very often.”

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