Pelham Bay Park in N.Y.: A user's guide
New York City's biggest park is in the Bronx — and it boasts a beach, salt marshes and even an equestrian center.
Tue, Aug 09, 2011 at 08:01 AM
As the largest city park in the Big Apple, Pelham Bay Park offers a little country in the city. A key feature is Orchard Beach, the largest beach in the city, a 1.1-mile strip of sand along the Long Island Sound.
Two golf courses, playgrounds, sports fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts and handball courts provide myriad options of fun and games. Hundreds of acres of wildlife refuge give humans a place to get in touch with nature surrounded by a city that never sleeps.
Pelham Bay Park was established in 1888, when the city of the Bronx purchased 1,700 acres for a total cost of $2,746,688. Orchard Beach opened to bathers in 1936 after an $8 million construction project that included parking lots and a 90,000-square-foot bathhouse complex. The park grew by 115 acres and the beach grew by more than a mile in 1947 by filling in the shallow water in LeRoy’s Bay between Hunter and Twin islands.
Things to do
Nearly 1.5 million people visit Orchard Beach each year. Most are drawn to the only beach in the Bronx during the summer when the mile of sand beach is a swell place to cool off. There is a promenade lined with shops, playgrounds, picnic areas, and more than two dozen sports courts that provide year-round recreation.
Sure, there are trails to walk or jog, but serious runners might want to check out Pelham Bay Track and Field, a state-of-the-art 400-meter track with long jump, high jump, pole vault, discus and shot-put facilities.
Bronx Equestrian Center, an equestrian facility located in Pelham Bay Park, offers trail rides.
Why you’ll want to come back
Pelham Bay Park protects all-but-vanished salt marshes that can be explored by kayak or canoe. A ramp west of Orchard Beach provides access to a protected lagoon and is a good starting point to explore the marshes and many small islands at the mouth of Long Island Sound.
Flora and fauna
Pelham Bay Park contains the 371-acre Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary, a mix of oak-hickory forest and salt marsh that is a refuge for raccoons and coyotes, egrets and herons. Visitors to the park may also spot an osprey hunting for fish.
Birds often seen in the park include Canada geese, mallards, bufflehead, red-tailed hawks, gulls and plovers.
In May and June, horseshoe crabs emerge from Pelham Bay and the Long Island Sound onto Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park to breed and lay eggs in the sand.
By the numbers:
- Website: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
- Park size: 2,772 acres
- 2010 visitation: 5.5–6 million. (This includes about 1.4 million who visit Orchard Beach.)
- Funky fact: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers added 250,000 cubic yards of sand to Orchard Beach last year.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of a crab on Orchard Beach: Kristine Paulus/Flickr