Roof Pools for Everyone (Riverbank State Park, Harlem)

A recent New York Times article, “Sun. Splash. Repeat.” reported that there are only 15 residential outdoor pools in Manhattan and specifically mentioned 6 of them that are on rooftops.  There are at least 2 more completely outdoor roof pools in Manhattan hotels – The Soho House New York and The Gansevoort.  That is fantastic summertime news for the residents and guests of these exclusive properties, although if you’re a lap swimmer, like me, these splash-sized roof pools really don’t get your blood (or heart rate) pumping like you’d hoped.

It turns out, that there is a Manhattan 25-yard outdoor roof pool for everyone.  Take the #1 subway to 145th Street and a short walk later, you’re there.  It may not look like a rooftop pool because you didn’t have to take an elevator to get there, but indeed it is suspended 69 feet above the Hudson!  The only clue to what it is built on is the faint odor when you are walking over the West Side Highway into the park, and that dissipates completely once you are inside.  All 28 acres of Riverbank State Park are built on the roof of the Hudson River hugging sewage treatment plant in Harlem.

It’s easy to get past the “ick” factor once you walk into this mesmerizing park.  What to do first?  There are grassy picnic areas with fantastic  views of the George Washington Bridge and the New Jersey Palisades.  There is tennis, basketball, softball, an 8-lane artificial turf running track, another indoor pool that is Olympic size, a roller/ice rink (depending on the season), a gym, a restaurant, an 800-seat cultural theater, and even a carousel.

Riverbank State Park is the only complex of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, and is inspired by Japanese urban roof design.  It is also the only State park in New York City, complete with Park Rangers, although I didn’t see a single bouncing ranger hat (a la Yogi Bear) – maybe those come out when the temperature drops below 80 degrees.

Here’s the low down on swimming laps in this outdoor roof pool:  It’s 3 bucks and lap lanes are available only from 6:30-8:30 a.m. during the summer season.  There are 8 laps in the outdoor pool, and most of the time I had my own lane, but occasionally I had to share with one other considerate swimmer who split the lane with me.  There is lap swimming at night too from 7-8:30 p.m. but you have to buy a $30 monthly “splash pass” for the evening sessions.  The rest of the day, the lap lanes come down and the pool is open for cooling off in the New York summer sun.  Remember, there is also the enormous elevated 50 meter pool inside with the same summer hours.

The locker rooms (bring your own lock) are large and have nice showers.  I was there from about 7 to 8 in the morning and had almost the entire locker room to myself.

Just ten subway stops away, I LOOKED UP and found my roof pool with the beautiful river and bridge views.  New York City comes through again!

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