Believe it or not, you can find solitude in New York City. Yes, it’s true that this is the most densely populated city in the United States, home to 8.6 million people who have accepted a lack of personal space as a fact of life. But NYC is also physically huge. It’s made up of 320 square miles, spread out over dozens of islands. Somewhere in all that, whether it’s at the coastline, in the forest, or at a Superfund site, it is possible not to be surrounded by other people. So if you’re looking for some alone time, a place to have a good cry, or somewhere to stretch your legs without risking contamination during a pandemic, keep these secluded NYC spots in mind.
DEAD HORSE BAY
If you think the name ‘Dead Horse Bay’ sounds like an environmentalist’s nightmare, you’d be absolutely right. This small beach has had a long, messy history, dating back to the 1850s when fish oil factories, garbage incinerators, and horse-rendering plants—hence the name—populated the site. The rise of the automobile meant that by the 1920s there was no longer a steady supply of dead horses for the factories to use to create glue and fertilizer, but in its place, the city handed off a steady supply of trash to be dumped on to the land. By the 1930s the area had already reached capacity, and the city decided that the best thing to do was cover the trash in a layer of dirt and pretend it never existed. Somehow, they failed to take into account that the waves constantly crashing against the shoreline would erode the dirt layer and expose the trash underneath. Today, Dead Horse Bay is a melange of horse bone fragments, colorful twentieth century bottles, disembodied baby doll heads, and washed up marine life all juxtaposed against a view of the Rockaways. If the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” resonates with you, so may Dead Horse Bay.
MARINE PARK SALT MARSH
Have you ever wished you could be swallowed up by Mother Nature and disappear among the reeds and cord grass? Well, you can live out your swampy fantasy at this Brooklyn nature trail. However, you won’t be alone: the salt marsh is home to 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies, and 100 species of fish. See if you can spot an osprey when you make it to the waterfront on this 1.1 mile trail.
Out of all the places in America, would you ever have guessed that you could find an abandoned Civil War fort in Bayside, Queens? Built in 1862 to protect New York from a potential Confederate ship attack on the East River, Fort Totten hasn’t seen much action, but it was used to store Nike missiles and anti-aircraft batteries up until the 1970s. These days, a small portion of the fort is used by the NYPD and FDNY, but the rest of the ruins are open to exploration. Fun fact: Jay-Z filmed the video for Run This Town, featuring Rihanna and Kayne West in the Fort Totten ruins.
VANDERBILT MOTOR PARKWAY (LONG ISLAND MOTOR PARKWAY)
The NYC Parks Department has a habit of turning things with a wild history into tranquil recreation areas. What today is a bicycle and pedestrian path used to be a motor raceway. Back in 1908, car-racing enthusiast William Vanderbilt II decided that it wasn’t a wise thing to hold his beloved car races on residential roads where people could easily be injured, so he built his own racing road that stretched from Fresh Meadows, Queens, all the way into Lake Ronkonkoma in Long Island. Unfortunately, constructing a private road wasn’t enough to prevent injuries, so following a crash which resulted in the deaths of two racers and injuries of twenty others, the New York State Legislature restricted car racing to race tracks, shutting down Vanderbilt’s dreams of being in The Fast and the Furious. Today, most of Vanderbilt’s Motor Parkway is used as a roadway, but the strip that extends from Cunningham Park to Alley Pond Park is a peaceful pathway for those on two wheels or two legs.
Staten Island is where boats go to die. For years Arthur’s Kill on the southwestern shore has been the final resting place for decommissioned ships clogging up New York’s coastline. But they haven’t gathered there serendipitously. This is the site of the Witte Marine Equipment Company, a company that strips the boats and sells off the parts. But the boats usually arrive faster than Witte can strip them, so dozens, at times hundreds of old, decrepit boats sit in the muck, waiting for their day of reckoning. I don’t advise visiting this boat graveyard unless you want a reckoning of your own: aside from it being private property, exploring a site of decaying boats sounds like a massive case of tetanus in the making.
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