Wild green Bronx

The Bronx is blooming - and bursting with gardens, birds, and parks.

Photos by Kathy Willens/AP
PEACEFUL: Tourists rest on a bench overlooking the Hudson river and gardens at Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center in the northwest Bronx in New York.

NEW YORK (AP) — Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is blooming!

Despite its urban image, the Bronx has 7,000 acres of park land, about 25 percent of its total area. In addition to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, the borough’s green spaces include the New York Botanical Garden; a 19th century garden overlooking the Hudson River called Wave Hill; and Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay parks, where you can bird-watch, play golf and ride horses.

New York City is touting the Bronx’s green attractions in a new promotion.

“Most people don’t think of the Bronx like that. We want to open their eyes to the actual physical beauty of the Bronx,” said George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization.

It’s quite a turnaround for a place that once symbolized urban decay.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning,” sportscaster Howard Cosell famously said during a 1977 Yankees game, as footage aired of a building in flames near the stadium. An epidemic of arson plagued the city at the time.

New York is a different place now, billed as America’s safest big city and attracting a record 46 million tourists last year.

Many of those tourists are repeat visitors, and “their appetite for something other than Times Square and the Statue of Liberty is enormous,” said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., who got an enthusiastic reception talking up the Bronx at a recent tourism conference in Berlin.

GREEN SPACES: Sure, the Bronx Zoo has wild animals from around the world, including a new exhibit called Madagascar.

But for native wildlife, check out the Bronx River, which runs alongside the zoo. Turtles sun themselves on rocks, a red-winged blackbird calls, geese march by the shore.

On a recent day, a wayward duckling hopped out of the water and drew a crowd, attracting more attention than a nearby buffalo exhibit.

You can walk along the river without paying admission to the zoo; the trail starts near the totem pole in the zoo parking lot.

The Bronx River Alliance, which is restoring the waterway, hosts events and paddling on the river;

If you want lions and tigers too, the zoo is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (5:30 p.m. on weekends);

North of the zoo is the New York Botanical Garden, a National Historic Landmark that dates to 1891,, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

A tram takes you around the garden’s 250 acres, which include a children’s garden, forest, rock garden, and a Victorian-style glass conservatory.

The vast rose garden’s 3,000 plants include varieties that bloom continuously spring to fall. An outdoor exhibit of 20 Henry Moore sculptures is up through Nov. 2.

Yves Soulier, a tourist from France, visited the garden recently with his wife, Anne. He said the Bronx had a reputation as “a hard banlieue,” using the French term for the outskirts of a city. “I have read this in the books,” he added. “But we like the flowers and plants here.”

In the northwest Bronx is Wave Hill, with a dozen themed gardens, panoramic views of the Hudson River and princely frogs in a lily pond. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.;

Now a city-owned public garden, Wave Hill was once a private estate whose guest list included Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Arturo Toscanini, and Theodore Roosevelt.

A photo exhibit opens Sept. 9 called “Surprisingly Natural: the Nature of the Bronx.”

Hawks and eagles are often spotted during the garden’s bird walks, which resume in the fall.

The Bronx is home to two large parks, Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay. Both have golf courses, horseback riding, and historic house museums: Pelham’s Bartow-Pell Mansion, and the Van Cortlandt House, built in 1748 and the Bronx’s oldest building.

Jack Rothman leads free birding tours around Pelham Bay Park and in the City Island area. His website lists bird-watching expeditions around the city, and includes a section called, “What does a guy from the Bronx know about birds?”

Turns out he knows plenty. “You hear the birds before you see them,” he said, pausing to listen to a concert of bird songs, trills and whistles along a wooded path in Pelham Bay Park.

Over the course of an hour, a shushing sound he made, known among birders as “pishing,” coaxed into view a yellow-throated warbler, a red-winged blackbird, an Eastern towhee, a willow flycatcher, and an orchard oriole.

Under a rusty bridge, he pointed out swallows nesting, and in the marshes, egrets fishing. “It’s hard to believe this is the Bronx,” he said.

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