Historic Bartow-Pell Conservancy Service Trip, New York City

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13303A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Work in New York City's largest park
  • Tour the Big Apple
  • Enjoy concerts and Broadway shows, and sample some of the city's 24,000 restaurants


  • Lodging and most meals
  • Speakers on history and conservation
  • Work tools 


DatesOct 13–20, 2013
StaffRichard Grayson

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Tucked inside Pelham Bay Park -- New York City's largest park, at 2,764 acres -- is the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion. In 1654, Thomas Pell acquired the land that became the park from the Siwanoy Indians. The Greek Revival Bartow-Pell Mansion was built between 1836 and 1842 by Robert Bartow, a Pell descendant. It was one of some 22 grand country houses built by New York City's wealthy families who wanted to escape Manhattan's summer heat and humidity. It is the only house to have survived. At the time, the area was so remote, that the best way to reach it from Manhattan was by boat. The mansion was beautifully restored in the early 20th century by the International Garden Club, which has since become the Bartow-Pell Conservancy. The mansion is both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark. A museum since 1946, it has a wonderful collection of 19th-century furnishings and decorative arts.

Pelham Bay Park is located in Bronx County, one of the five boroughs (counties) in the City of New York. The Bronx is the only borough that is on the mainland. The other four are on islands connected to each other by bridges, tunnels, and ferries. We will be staying on Manhattan Island, working in the Bronx and, on a touring day, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (on Long Island) to Manhattan. We will then take the ferry (the world's greatest free boat ride) to Staten Island, past the Statue of Liberty. Near the site of our work is a Revolutionary War battleground. Not too far from that site is what has been called a New England fishing village in New York City, which we'll visit. That village is City Island (yes, another island in New York City). October is the very beginning of leaf peeping season, so we may also see the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall. 

The Project

The Bartow-Pell Mansion and the 60 acres that surround it are under the stewardship of the Bartow-Pell Conservancy in conjunction with the New York City Parks Department. Like many urban areas, New York City has a severely under-budgeted parks department. That is why the 60 acres are overgrown. It will be our job to clear these areas under the supervision of the Parks Department and the Conservancy. Those two groups will supply the tools for our work.


We will meet the afternoon of Sunday, October 13, at the International Youth Hostel in Manhattan. After a get-acquainted dinner at the hostel, we will spend the evening exploring part of Manhattan Island.

Monday will also be devoted to exploring parts of New York City. We will work Tuesday through Friday around the Bartow-Pell Mansion. During one of those work days, we will take a tour of the mansion museum. On other days, we will listen to guest speakers on conservation and historic topics and maybe hike some of the park's trails. In the evenings, we will have the opportunity to see concerts and Broadway shows. The cost for concerts and shows, and the dinners and lunches away from the hostel are not included in the trip price. We will probably have two dinners and two lunches that are not included in the trip price. On Saturday you will be on your own. We will meet Saturday night for a farewell dinner at an ethnic restaurant. 



Getting There

If you fly into any of the New York City airports, take public transportation to the hostel. Specific directions will be sent to all trip participants. New York is a walking city, with excellent 24-hour public transportation. Parking can be expensive, so it is recommended that you don't drive a car into the city.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying at the International Youth Hostel at 103rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The dormitory-style rooms are clean and comfortable. Do not bring sleeping bags, but do bring a padlock since each room has lockers large enough for a small suitcase or backpack. The hostel, which is the largest one in the USA, has laundry and storage facilities. Our first trip meal will be Sunday dinner on the first day, and our last meal will be Sunday breakfast on our last day. The hostel supplies our breakfasts and most of our lunches. Dinners in the hostel will be catered by a local restaurant. Vegetarian meals are available. 

Trip Difficulty

Although there are no long distances to hike or significant elevation changes, working in the park can be tiring and difficult. So make sure that you are in reasonable physical condition. Since this is a leader-approved trip, the leader will speak with each trip applicant. But do not be scared off -- we want everyone to work to his or her potential and make the Bartow-Pell property a more attractive part of Pelham Bay Park.

Equipment and Clothing

The New York City Parks Department and the Bartow-Pell Conservancy will supply all the necessary equipment. Since temperatures can range from the cold and wet 40s to the brilliantly sunny 70s, bring appropriate clothing.



  • Ultan and Unger, Bronx Accent: A Literary and Pictorial History of the Borough.
  • Burrows and Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
  • Kazimiroff, Theodore, The Last Algonquin. 


Due to budget problems, the New York City Parks Department has entered into stewardship agreements with numerous non-profit organizations. The Bartow-Pell Conservancy is one such organization. We will learn about conservation issues in the city's largest park, which was created about 80 years ago. The park also contains the only public beach in the Bronx and the city's second-largest wetlands. 



Richard Grayson has been involved with Sierra Club national outings since 1967, when he was a teenager. He has been on 33 Sierra Club national service trips -- 23 of which he has been the leader or co-leader. He is a leader for the Sierra Club International Outings and Northeast Outings Subcommittees and is certified in wilderness first aid. When he is not on Sierra Club trips, he plays a lot of baseball and is still waiting for his long-awaited major league call-up.


Jerry Balch, a native New Yorker, has camped, hiked, and backpacked extensively in the United States, Europe and the Himalayas. He has been active in the Sierra Club since 1982. Jerry is a volunteer tour guide at the International Youth Hostel and has taken thousands of visitors from all over the world on The Grand Tour, a spectacular all-day walk throughout the city.

Assistant Leader:

Fran Hann, a Bostonian with an accent, is a longtime Appalachian Mountain Club member and an avid touring cyclist and hiker. Fran enjoys being outdoors with friends and family. He has also hiked and traveled many areas of the Southwest, Northwest, and British Columbia.

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