Sunday, November 16, 2008
Whenever opposition to public access arises, I always think of Manor Park in Larchmont. For those of you not familiar, Manor Park is a privately owned and maintained, 13 acre space situated along the southwest entrance to Larchmont Harbor. There is no charge to enter the park during any season. Visitors do not need to first make a trip to the town hall with a utility bill, car registration, and bank statement to show proof of residency. There is no attendant at the entrance who charges $7 on weekdays and $9 on weekends. There is not even a fence around the park.
Manor Park is free for everyone, but it is not a free-for-all. There are rules, and plenty of them. Aside from the usual "dogs must be leashed" and "no ball playing" rules, the park also bans picnicking, blankets, chairs, food, and beverages. There is no biking, skating, fishing, or swimming allowed either. You cannot launch a kayak or sailboard from the park. Wedding photography requires a permit. Parking is not allowed on the streets that border the park.
The only activities allowed seem to be walking, sitting, reading, and thinking. The cynic in me says that the rules are just a backhanded way of discouraging visitors. The idealist in me says that the rules are fine. If the Larchmont Manor Park Society truly wanted to keep out nonresidents, they could have installed a wrought iron gate with a card key system similar to Gramercy Park. According to the their website, the society receives no money from any government agency. It is within their right to restrict visitors, but they have not done so. The cynic in me is wrong this time.
A common theme heard in the coastal access debate is that small town parks need to restrict nonresidents because residents of nearby larger cities would overwhelm the park. If they wanted , Larchmont could make that claim too. The village borders the city of New Rochelle, while the Bronx line is only about a 6 mile drive down Boston Post Road. White Plains is less than 10 miles north via Rte 125. In all of my visits to Manor Park, it has never seemed crowded or overwhelmed.
I realize that this is not a perfect argument due to the limited recreation available at Manor Park. Anyone looking to spend a Saturday swimming and picnicking is certainly not going to consider Manor Park. But then again, not everyone who visits Greenwich Point or Bayley Beach is looking to swim and picnic. Some visitors just want to walk, or read, or take in the scenery. Greenwich and Rowayton are not interested in what you plan to do, they simply do not want you there.
Another common argument is that the residents of Greenwich accept no state or federal money to maintain their parks, therefore they are free to restrict access. As I earlier noted, the Larchmont Manor Park Society receives no government money and could legally impose similar restrictions if they chose to. To their credit, they have not done so.
If you visit, be sure to respect the rules that are posted, and be careful to observe the parking signs. Your best bet is to park on one of the cross streets, two or three blocks north. A hidden benefit here is that you will be able to view some of the Victorian and center hall Colonials that line the Manor. The striated rocks that border the shore make for a beautiful scene. The stone walls and steps that wind through the park complement the beauty. Manor Park is truly unique, and it is open to everyone at no charge. That is a rare commodity in this vicinity. Just be sure to leave your cooler and beach towel at home.
Manor Park Web Album
Soundbounder: Umbrella Point