Touring Freshkills Park by Yacht


Several times a year, the AIANY & Freshkills Park planners host a special Classic Harbor Line tour into the Freshkills waterways.  It’s a fascinating tour, full of otherwise inaccessible views and a window into New York City’s historical and current development on the water.

The three hour tour leaves from Chelsea Piers in one of Classic Harbor Line’s luxury yachts, where guests are treated to waterside views of the lower Manhattan skyline and stories about the architects who designed the skyscrapers.  Upon leaving the relatively protected waters of the Hudson River, the yacht enters the active channel of the Upper Bay and passes between Governor’s Island on one side and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the other.  It’s exhilarating to be motoring through this incredibly busy channel with other recreational craft, ferries and water taxis, not to mention the tugboats, tankers and enormous container ships.


The yacht heads south and west toward the north shore of Staten Island and into the totally different industrial world of the Kill Van Kull.  The industrial waterfront has its own unique architectural qualities related to maritime uses, public utilities and petroleum storage facilities.  There are tall cranes, active dredging barges with watery sediments dripping from their buckets, large dry docks for boat repairs, soaring container lifts as well as the steel infrastructure associated with elevating the Bayonne Bridge and building a twin to the Goethals Bridge.

While New York City has reclaimed waterfronts in Brooklyn and Manhattan for residential towers, the uplands of the Kill van Kull have retained important waterfront industry that support thriving maritime businesses and provide important jobs.  That industry also comes with a price, and there are many contaminated parcels of property, in various states of cleanup, on these shores.  One of these, Mariners Marsh Park, was even the site of a gruesome murder in the 1970s.

As the yacht leaves the Goethals Bridge behind, it moves into quieter and more naturalized shorelines in the section of the Arthur Kill near Prall’s Island.  This area is the location of an interesting initiative in wetlands rehabilitation; the Sawmill Creek Marsh is the first wetland mitigation bank in NYC. Developers who invest in mitigation at Saw Mill Creek receive credits that can be used to offset unavoidable impacts on projects at other locations.


The approach to Freshkills Park is signaled by the tower of the NRG power plant and the Pratt Industries Paper Mill.  The yacht leaves the Arthur Kill and turns into the Fresh Kill. Just as seeing the Manhattan skyscrapers from the water side gives one a different perspective on their form, so entering the Park on the water changes one’s experience of it.

There are sweeping views of the Park’s green hills, all capped mounds of garbage from the Fresh Kills Landfill, but they are background, not foreground. The ongoing NYC Department of Sanitation operations and the ongoing capping of the final mound, sites rarely seen on any of the Park tours, are foreground. There are also up close views of the Staten Island Transfer Station, and the bright orange rail cars that now carry Staten Island’s garbage to landfills in other states can be seen on the tracks.


This tour also provides a view into the Park’s potential for waterfront reclamation. Current plans for both shorelines of Fresh Kill include their transformation into the commercial hub of Freshkills Park with marinas, cultural facilities, recreational boating, picnic areas and a waterfront esplanade.  Surrounding the commercial core will continue to be the more natural environment of the Park’s green rolling hills, forested lowlands and wetlands.

As the yacht makes its return journey to Chelsea Piers, perspectives on the urban waterfront may shift again as guests view it with a deepened understanding of its varied and changing nature.

Check the calendar for information about upcoming Classic Harbor Line Tours.

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