Before descending into the park proper at W. 116th, stop to look at the marble stele fountain on the west side of Riverside Drive. The monument depicts two classical garbed women holding a lamp. Underneath them, we read the words “ERECTED BY THE WOMAN'S HEALTH PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK CITY TO COMMEMORATE ITS TWENTY FIFTH YEAR OF ACTIVITY ON BEHALF OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH 1884 1909." According to the NYC Parks page on the fountain (see Resources below post), members of the city's suffragette community commissioned the monument. Given the debate about women's health issues in this election year, the fountain could serve as a geographical rallying point for continued struggles. By the way, the drinking fountain actually works and serves the needs of runners along Riverside Drive.
Riverside Park cascades down to multiple levels behind its retaining walls. This section, part of the original park (72nd to 125th, planned and developed from 1875 to 1910), retains the ideals of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, among others, to extend the look of the Hudson River Valley into the city. Descending the stairs into the leafy park allows for a conscious transition from the world of the built city above to the natural world below. Walking through Riverside Park feels like stepping outside the city, but at the same time, a walk here feels like being a part of an older city. We should remember that this section of the park is just south of Grant's Tomb, inaugurated in 1897 and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the city a hundred years ago.
The mature sycamore and London Plane-trees of the esplanade between 101st and 110th Streets lend the park an aging beauty, and their falling leaves create fanciful dancing swirls with each burst of northwesterly wind. Other important trees here include the famed Cherry Trees along the Cherry Walk and many graceful American Elms. At 105th Street, the Hudson Beach Cafe, opened seasonally, offers a sweet spot to take in the sunset over the river. Walking south, the sports fields come into view, providing a good perspective of the different terrace levels of the park.
On a final note, near 97th Street, look for signs indicating the restoration of the Carrère Memorial Stairs. The terrace and balustrade is named for architect John Mervin Carrère (1858–1911) and designed by his partner Thomas Hastings (1869-1929). The memorial to Carrère was completed and donated to the city in 1916. The firm of Carrère and Hastings designed the facade of the New York Public Library, the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the William Starr Miller house (now the Neue Galerie), and Grand Army Plaza, among other major works.
You can find a path out of the park at 96th and catch the convenient 1,2,3 train at the subway stop on Broadway. On the other hand, the occasion of a nice day may suggest an excuse to keep walking.
• Riverside Park Fund's History of the Park page
• NYC Parks page on the Women's Health Protective Association Fountain
• Hudson Beach Cafe
• NYC Parks page on the Carrère Memorial
View Riverside Park: 116th to 96th in a larger map
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from September 17, 2012. Reminder: Clicking on the pictures enlarges them.