Monday, June 14, 2010

A Great Hudson River Gem Is Gone

June 14, 2010
All photos by Jennifer Benepe (C).
Many cyclists are familiar with one of the Tri-State area's cycling paradises, Henry Hudson Drive.  Informally known as River Road, the 7-mile roadway is part of the New Jersey Palisades, and provides some of the most beautiful riding just a few pedal strokes away from the entrance to the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side.

Adding to their pleasure is the relatively low traffic on the winding, hilly road that takes cyclists along untouched river front to Alpine, NJ where they connect to Route 9W and points north.

As cyclists have whizzed by the boat basin below Fort Lee and Englewood Cliffs, little did they know another paradise was being constructed by hand day after day by a man named Daniel Holovach.

Every day Mr. Holovach came to his favorite spot situated on a mile-long pathway connecting the first picnic area, Ross Dock, to the second, Englewood Boat Basin. In between he built an oasis of flowers, which bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Last Saturday a couple was standing by Mr. Holovach's garden, and he was not there. They were wondering when the new bench had been put in, and who had done it. It sat next to the stone garden that Holovach had constructed from stones that he had collected from the Hudson when the tide went out. Along with wooden sculptures he had made of driftwood, he had plans for a stone table that he would sit at and enjoy his little space by the river.

Who is the bench for? I asked. "It's for Dan," he said. "Dan? What do you mean?" I asked.  "Dan Holovach," he answered. It soon became clear, he had died.

Why it was only yesterday he was here. In the spring I has visited and taken pictures of Holovach's red tulips sticking their necks out gracefully, silhouetted by the river.  Holovach was 63 when he died of a heart attack. It was about four days after his death that he was found in his apartment, said his brother John Holovach of Wyckoff, NJ, reached by phone.

It should have been clear to me: weeds had taken over Holovach's favorite spot that he had cultivated carefully with gorgeous perennials, like French Lavender, purple Irises, and many other flowers that I do not even know the names of.

"People have gone done there and started to pull out the weeds," said his brother who said his older brother was a "modern day Johnny Appleseed." "We also planted a Dogwood tree in his honor," near the Snack Shack at the Englewood Boat Basin where Holovach used to park his truck. But clearly, no one had taken a real hand to the weeds, as they started to crowd out his beautiful flowers. A note wrapped in plastic and held down by little stones that had been left this spring on his stone construction read, "Dear Dan, thank you very much, from Ernetta and Ira, with all our love."

It was a note that had been written as if he were still alive, and perhaps, like me, the authors had thought he was still alive, as his garden bloomed from tulips and daffodils lining the hillside, to tiger lilies lining the river wall, and peonies showing their early buds.

A highly skilled carpenter, Holovach was also a consummate wood worker and left behind a cache of gorgeous wood sculptures he had carved from found pieces of wood.  He waited for an eternity before he could buy a fine Japanese tool to work with the wood, said his brother John. "Then he would shave off one little piece of wood that was so thin you could see through it, and at that point he became like Zen."

He also left thousands of photographs, and sentimental items said his brother. "He saved everything, even the baseball that I stuffed up as a kid." What's more Dan left behind scores of friends and admirers who loved what he did for the Hudson River green front, and he won't be easily replaced.

As it turns out, the love for Dan spread wide and far: the NJ Palisades Park donated the bench. John Holovach and his family donated the plaque.  And though the park does have other volunteers, no one can match his tenacity and dedication.

If you are traveling by foot, take a visit to Dan's place by taking any of the buses from the 177th St. bus station (on Broadway) to the first stop in New Jersey. Walk east towards the river along Bridge Plaza North, down a flight of steps and across Hudson Terrace to the north foot path to the George Washington Bridge.

Climb up slightly to the left of the foot path, and you will be on a dirt path heading north. Follow this for about half a mile till you come to a fork in the path, and take the right fork towards the river. You will need to climb down a series of steep steps that are fragments of the old Palisades Park when it was once a swimming and recreation area. Take those steps down to the roadway (Hudson River Drive), then pass under the roadway, continue down to the path which leads you to a few hundred feet south of the Ross Dock area.  Head north past the edge of the recreation area and children's playground and you'll see a little path heading north. Follow the path north until you come to Dan's Place.

By car, take the Palisades Parkway exit heading north off the George Washington Bridge. Take the first exit for Englewood. At the stop sign bear left. Take a left turn and head down the roadway towards the Englewood Cliffs Boat Basin. At the pin turn, follow the roadway right. At the bottom of the hill, take a left into the parking area. Walk south from the Snack Shack about 300 feet till you get to Dan's Place.

By bike of course you might want to bring a pair of shoes to walk the distance along the dirt path to the location, but you could easily do so with cleats on.

If you make a trip of it, the Snack Shack has breakfast and lunch, and features free WIFI, so you can sit and do your work while you enjoy the view and take in the small Dogwood planted by Palisades Park employees nearby.

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