Parks in New York City kind of amuse me. On the one hand, you have Central Park, which takes up 843 acres in the middle of Manhattan. On the other, you have places like the Abe Lebewohl Triangle, measuring just 0.01 acres. New York City parks come in all shapes, sizes, and locations, and there is probably no park as unique as The High Line.
Located on the west side of Manhattan, the High Line is a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park. It’s built on an old railroad section, and takes visitors from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.
On an old railroad section? Yep! The history of the High Line is as interesting as unique as the park itself.
Way back when (so, the 1800s), the New York Central Railroad ran trains on street level along Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. These trains were used to ship things like coal, beef, and dairy around. The problem was, the street-level trains were death traps, and there were hundreds of accidents each year. During the early 1900s, the city approved plans for the West Side Elevated Highway, which included the West Side Line. The last bit of street-level track was removed in 1941.
The new elevated tracks ran through the area, connecting directly with factories and warehouses in the Meatpacking District. If you didn’t know already, the Meatpacking District got its name because of the huge number of slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants that were located here during the turn of the century.
Of course, as society changed and the rise of interstate trucking occurred, there was no longer a need for the elevated tracks to haul items from location to location. The High Line saw a big drop in usage, until parts of it were demolished to make way for new construction projects. By the 1990s, the High Line was abandoned, in complete disrepair, and was scheduled for demolition.
Enter Friends of the High Line. Formed in 1999 by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, two residents who lived right near the High Line, the group advocated to preserve the space and turn it into an elevated public park. They were inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris, a similar elevated park. After meetings and fundraising (assisted by many, including fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg), the High Line was saved.
Construction started in 2006, and parts of it continue to this day. The High Line is now one of the most popular destinations in New York City, and it receives millions of visitors each year.
One (really) cool thing about the High Line is that it has completely revitalized the Chelsea neighborhood. Since the park first opened, real estate development has picked up in areas along the line, and property values have reached new highs.
I’ve heard about the High Line for years, but never had much interest in checking it out. I’m a frequent visitor of Forest Park (here in Queens) and Central Park, and I just always seemed to forget that the High Line was there. But with the warmer weather rolling in (for one day at least…), I had to go check it out.
Walking the High Line is pretty easy, as it is accessible from a number of entrances. I chose to start down on Gansevoort Street, which is a quick (maybe 5-minute?) walk from the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway. There’s a public bathroom there, a rarity in New York City.
My walk to 34th Street took me longer to complete than I thought it would. On a nice day, the High Line can be pretty crowded, and most people walk at a leisurely pace. I think if you’re going to use it as a running path, you should get there early in the day (during the summer the park opens at 7:00 a.m.), or you’re pretty much at the mercy of the crowds.
Due to its elevated location, the High Line has some pretty cool views. I loved looking out from the trees to see the Empire State Building.
Park developers created a few areas where you can stop, sit, and enjoy the sights. There are also some benches scattered throughout. I was surprised to see only a few vendors, but you can easily head down the stairs to the city below if you need a snack or something.
Since it’s still early in the season, don’t expect to see the plants in full bloom. There are buds on the trees and some flowers growing in, but a good portion of the park is still feeling the effects of winter.
As you reach the 34th Street exit, you’re treated to views of New Jersey and the West Side Yard. I know, Jersey is our nemesis, but as a native Long Islander it’s always cool to see where all the LIRR trains are when they aren’t making people late.
Walking the High Line is a really unique New York experience that I definitely recommend doing. I was surrounded by families and other groups of people, but I still had a good time walking on my own. If you grab a seat at any of the spots along the way, the High Line makes for some pretty cool people watching. The park is open year round (until 10:00 in the winter and 11:00 in the summer), so there’s plenty of time to go check out a piece of the city’s rail history!