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Long Island

Former West Side railway opens as high-rise park

The first portion of the abandoned elevated railway that is being transformed into a unique park on the West Side opens to the public Tuesday.

Activists and public officials have long envisioned and advocated for the 1.5-mile-long park called the High Line, which is 30 feet above the streets. Now the vision has been realized with the opening of the first half-mile section, between Gansevoort and West 20th streets and between Ninth and 11th avenues.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D- Manhattan) and other officials were joined Monday by chef Mario Batali, media mogul Barry Diller and designer Diane von Furstenberg at an opening ceremony atop the park. "They renovate parks all the time," Batali said. "It's rare they open a brand new one."

The debut section offers views of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District and overlooks the Hudson River. No dogs are allowed in the park, where in some spots original tracks create artistic grooves in the path.

Signs warning "Keep it Wild. Keep on the Path" are staked in so-called plant pallets along the mostly paved route. There are 100 species of plants along the $152.3-million landscaped park, which stretches 60 feet wide in some places.

"A handful of people who looked at the High Line saw . . . an extraordinary gift to our city's future," Bloomberg said.

Some of those visionaries were Robert Hammond and Joshua David, who in 1999 cofounded Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit that fought to preserve the rail spur. "It feels like a dream come true," Hammond said. "We raised the flag, but it really was thousands and thousands of other people who made it happen."

In April 2006, ground was broken at the park. The second section, from West 20th to West 30th streets, might open next year. The complete park will reach West 34th Street.

The rail was built in 1934 for freight trains hauling dairy, produce and meats. The elevated line replaced street-level rails for safety. While the rail was abandoned about 30 years ago, the structure remained. Property owners underneath lobbied to have the rusty span demolished in the mid-1980s. But neighborhood activists stepped in, advocating for the park space.


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