Parks & Nature
SaW Mill River
Because of the American suburbs being grounded in nature, it is no surprise that environmental activists have an easier time meeting with successes in suburbs than in cities. Such is the case with the Saw Mill River in Yonkers. The Saw Mill River has been a distinguishing and invaluable part of Yonkers for over a century for many reasons; however, in this study, we must strive to grasp its environmental aspect and its role in keeping Yonkers citizens close to nature. To do this, we must understand that the Saw Mill River went through very different stages since humans have touched it: this once-powerful and natural river was at the forefront of the development of Yonkers; it was then conquered by suburban sprawl, and is currently in the process of being restored to what we can salvage of its former glory.
The Saw Mill River is a 20-mile long river; it is a tributary of the Hudson River that originates from a spring in Chappaqua, New York. From here, it runs south—parallel to the Hudson, and then curves towards the Hudson where it empties itself. It is the longest tributary of the Hudson.
The river was once named Nepperhan Creek. In 1646, Adriaen Van Der Donck acquired 24,000 acres of land from William Kieft, the then-governor of New Amsterdam. Interestingly, Van Der Donck was married to Mary Doughty, sister of Elias Doughty—the man who George Tippett of Tibbetts Brook Park bought his land from. With this land, Van Der Donck proceeded to build a series of water-powered saw mills; some time after this, Nepperhan Creek began to be known as the Saw Mill River. Van Der Donck was known by the Dutch honorary title “Jonkheer,” which meant “young gentleman.” The city of Yonkers was named after this title.
Over the years, the river began to pose several problems to the Yonkers community. Because of the high volumes of water that flowed through it, and its strong currents, flooding was a major problem. Furthermore, pollution became an issue. Since the river is so long, it was especially prone to having foreign objects enter its waters at several parts. The 1920s marked a move to correct some of these issues—or rather, make it less relevant to Yonkers residents. The Army Corps of Engineers took up a project to essentially bury the river under downtown Yonkers. This would involve cementing over the river, and the redirecting of its water. A major part of this project would involve the construction of a long flume near the river’s end; this flume would serve to prevent flooding and regulate the flow of its waters into the Hudson. By the end of the decade, most of the southern part of the river had been completely hidden away. Above the river lay bridges, streets, buildings, and a parking lot near its mouth. For close to a century, the river would remain in hiding.
From the history presented thus far, we can see that the river, which was once instrumental in the forming of Yonkers, eventually became a burden that had to be dealt with. However, in recent years, Yonkers residents have realized the necessity to re-suburbanize parts of their suburb and they have launched a project that will bring the river back to the forefront of suburban imagery. The Saw Mill River’s final half-mile stretch that empties into the Hudson, while forgotten, is still a major part of Yonkers. The aforementioned project,—outlined, proposed, and accepted—in 2007, strives to daylight the stream. Daylighting is a term that refers to the restoration of a river that has been covered up or hidden in other ways by urban construction. The City of Yonkers, along with the Saw Mill River Coalition, Groundwork Hudson Valley, the Project for Public Spaces, the Public Library, the Beczak Environmental Educational Center, and many other partners, plan to transform the parking lot above the river into a public park.
Stepping out of the Yonkers Train station presents a view of this project: the river is slowly being unearthed and brought back into public view. The plans for the new park include a tidal pool and two freshwater pools, all of which will serve to promote the flourishing of flora and fauna along the river. “Our job down here is really giving people a reason to come to downtown Yonkers—and this is going to be a great reason,” raved Jim Pinto, the Yonkers Director of Downtown and Waterfront Development. According to The Travel Channel, the project, which aims to replace four acres of concrete, is the largest industrial environmental project in the country. In December of 2010, a major milestone was met—the river broke ground and became visible to the public for the first time in over a century. A year later, workers had pumped out twenty-one million gallons of groundwater, erected 120 tons worth of stone walls, and installed two miles of underground piping. The project is huge, but its impact will be vast. As Phil Amicone, the former Mayor of Yonkers, said, “it is a terrific environmental park project that everyone is going to be able to enjoy for generations to come.” The proposed park hopes to host outdoor ecology workshops amidst a scenery filled with trees and flower beds.
 Watercourses, "Adriaen Van Der Donck and the Sawmill River." Accessed May 7, 2012. http://watercourses.typepad.com/watercourses/sawmill_river_yonkers_ny/.
 Gustafson, Colin. The Journal News, "Saw Mill River celebrates some 'daylighting' in Yonkers." Last modified December 07, 2011. Accessed May 7, 2012. http://www.lohud.com/article/20111206/NEWS02/312060053/Saw-Mill-River-celebrates-some-daylighting-Yonkers.
 Saw Mill River Coalition, "Daylighting the Saw Mill River in Yonkers." Accessed May 7, 2012. http://www.sawmillrivercoalition.org/whats-happening/daylighting-the-saw-mill-river-in-yonkers/.
 "Explore the Hidden River." The Travel Channel. Web, http://www.travelchannel.com/video/explore-the-hidden-river-16351.