Down By the River: Liberty State Park and Hoboken, NJ

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View of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the riverfront promenade in Liberty State Park.

Got a bit of a city hike to share with you…well, more like a city bike ride. If you’ll follow me, I’m going to take you down to a certain spot on the Hudson River in Jersey City. It’s a place with lots of bike trails, lots of sea breezes, and lots of history.

Not to mention a certain lady in a green dress standing on a rock right in the middle of New York Harbor.

You know who I’m talking about.

Lady Liberty just had a birthday not too long ago – and I think we may say that she’s still looking pretty darn good.

And this place of which I refer is Liberty State Park.

The parkland was once home to the Central Railroad of New Jersey, a port of call for newly-arrived immigrants once they had cleared through Ellis Island.

Every now and then, I like to bundle my bike onto the train in Montclair and trek down to Hoboken, hop off at the terminal and take the light rail over to the park for a few hours of biking – and I did just that a few weeks back, when I had a weekend blissfully unencumbered with work and/or graduate school responsibilities. And then, time permitting, I take the light rail back to Hoboken and then do some pedaling up and down the bike paths along the riverfront before taking the train home.

(As a side note, it was a little bit rattling to think that on my last Liberty bike trip, I’d been walking through Hoboken Terminal only a few days before the Pascack Valley Line train wreck in late September.)

Hoboken and Jersey City were a mess for a while after Hurricane Sandy – it was a while after the hurricane before the train station was fixed up. (The station needs some more fixing up now because of the accident, but they’re starting on that now.) The walkways over to Ellis Island were closed for quite a while, too, but last time I checked, they were open for access again (during normal operating hours, of course).

*

Let’s start with Liberty State Park.

In Liberty, you’ll find interpretive centers, both for history and for science, and plenty of riverside informational signs describing some of the plant life and wildlife in the area.

The park is under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Protection, while Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, a short ferry ride away, are of course under the aegis of the National Park Service. The Liberty Science Center is close by the park if you’re interested in that as well.

The whole area is an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new. You’ve got the old train terminal buildings and the Ellis Island complex itself practically cheek by jowl with all the gleaming new skyscrapers and developments in lower Manhattan, Hoboken and Jersey City.

My Irish ancestors came in, as I understand, by way of Governor’s Island, which is just across the harbor from Ellis Island. And I think it’s a safe bet that the rest of the tree familial came in by way of Ellis.

On a weekend, Liberty State Park is packed – there’s a picnic area near the visitor’s center and the American flag plaza that’s always packed to the gills of an afternoon when the weather’s nice.

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The Hoboken riverfront is filled with pedestrians on an early fall evening, as midtown Manhattan lights up across the river.

So what about this place called Hoboken?

Hoboken has been remade as a biker’s city over the past decade or so. The riverfront bike trails are part of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway. And that, in turn, is part of the East Coast Greenway, the Maine-to-Florida recreational trail. (Or at least it’s supposed to – the connection might still be in development. Check out the ECG site for updates.)

On any weekend in good weather, these trails are packed to the gills, not just with bikers, but people with roller blades, skateboards, families with kids in strollers and rickshaws, you name it.

Seeing as this is urban biking, use common sense: wear a helmet, use your hand signals, and make sure you’ve got a functioning bell and lights on the bike. When you’re heading through the train station, dismount from your bike and walk it through.

On a previous bike trip, I’d pedaled all the way up to the ferry terminal in Weehawken, a bit of a hike north of the city center. This time around, since it was coming down to evening, I stayed to Hoboken proper.

You’ve got a clear view across the river to Manhattan, and at nightfall, the financial district is all lit up – and the new World Trade Center looks like a glittering chunk of crystal. Definitely a happier sight than what we saw over there on a certain very sad day in 2001.

I’d picked up some supper on the hoof from a nearby eatery, and I parked myself and my bike next to the railing overlooking the river and just took in the view, the indigo-purple sky and the night breezes. Granted, the ambiance was marred a little bit by a party boat coming down the Hudson with its stereo turned up WAY past 11. (I’d be greatly surprised if any of the boat passengers came ashore without any hearing loss.)

Getting there and other stuff:

By car: New Jersey Turnpike Exit 14B, and follow the signs to Liberty State Park.

By train: NJ Transit trains (pretty much all North Jersey rail lines except for Raritan Valley and Northeast Corridor) call at Hoboken Terminal; PATH service to Hoboken is also available out of New York. From there, take the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (the blue line) to the Liberty State Park stop. The park entrance road is a short walk from the station.

Liberty State Park

Hudson River Waterfront Walkway

East Coast Greenway

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