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Sunday, June 16, 2013 - Page updated at 06:00 a.m.

New York’s High Line to offer a new walk on the wild side

The New York Times

NEW YORK — When the third and final section of the High Line opens next year, it will mark a sharp aesthetic departure from the first two sections: Instead of modernistic benches and showy perennials, there will be rusted tracks overgrown with Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod.

To achieve that, Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group that saved the abandoned railway from demolition, is spending $90 million.

“People fell in love with the idea that nature had taken over this monumental industrial site,” said Joshua David, who, with Robert Hammond, founded Friends of the High Line, which now maintains and operates the park for the city.

But to give the public that experience requires extensive work, including performing environmental remediation, shoring up the substructure and, in places, removing and then replacing the tracks.

In May, Friends of the High Line began offering tours of the third section, giving the public a preview even as work begins. Three days a week, tour groups step nimbly over track ballast and railroad ties, past discarded spikes and old steel plates. They take in the view of the Hudson River to the west and the active rail yard below, where commuter trains headed to and from Pennsylvania Station glide along 30 tracks. The tours, which are free, are already one of the summer’s hot tickets, and they are fully booked through early August.

The outings provide an opportunity to witness the open sky before the view is hemmed in by the new, $15 billion Hudson Yards district, which is being developed across 26 acres by the Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group. The project, which involves building a platform over part of the rail yard, will include more than 13 million square feet of office, residential, hotel, retail and cultural space.

“People spend more time looking at the trains than the Hudson,” said Hammond, who joined David recently on a walk along the third section. “It’s the flow of New York. That’s how people get in and out. It will disappear in a few years.”

Already under construction is an office tower for the luxury retailer Coach, which on Tuesday announced a $5 million gift to Friends of the High Line. The group is in the middle of a $125 million capital campaign.

“It’s an expression of Coach’s commitment to the development of the new Hudson Yards and, of course, the High Line,” said Lew Frankfort, Coach’s chief executive officer. “We have been part of the landscape of the mid-West Side since our birth in 1941. We love the High Line. It has a spirit and energy that we’re proud to be associated with.”

Eventually, Coach’s building will straddle the new section, called High Line at the Railyards, which will evoke the ruin and rebirth that the park’s founders found so compelling in the first place. There were self-seeding shrubs, wildflowers and grasses that had taken root amid the abandoned railway infrastructure. There was also a melancholy and quiet that contrasted with the bustle of the city.

A desire to recapture that feeling emerged during community meetings held in 2011 and 2012 to gather suggestions about the third section. Among individuals’ responses: “More wildness wherever possible”; “Preserve the visual drama of the rails”; “Please leave a very small section exactly the way it is now.”

While the city paid for the construction costs of the first two sections, Friends of the High Line will cover most of the last section. The group also finances the park’s maintenance and its educational and cultural programming.

Susan and Jim Goodfellow, who live in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., and have an apartment in Chelsea, recently took a tour.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to see a decayed urban landscape,” Susan Goodfellow said. “It will be great to have when friends from out of town visit. You really have to make a huge effort to explain what the High Line was.”

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