Fee: Adults $10.00 (15 and older)/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-14) $6.00
I wanted to celebrate Groundhog’s Day this year and had fully planned to go to Punxsutaway, PA to see the Groundhog’s Day festival again (see Day Thirty-Seven of ‘MywalkinManhattan’) but a ‘Arctic Vortex’ swept all over the Midwest with its fringes reaching the middle of Pennsylvania. It would be 30 degrees on Groundhog’s Day with a temperature of 4 degrees that night. The thought of sitting in Gobbler’s Knob in almost 0 weather had no appeal to me and I changed my plans.
I had remembered that there was a festival on Staten Island at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Staten Island Chuck’ on Groundhog’s Day so off I went early the next morning to see the…
I had planned to go out to Punxsutawney, PA again for Groundhog’s Day but the weather really turned this year. There was an Arctic Vortex (or whatever they are calling it this week) and the weather plunged in Pennsylvania. It was going to be 20 degrees on Groundhog’s Day (that meant 0 degrees that night) and raining when I would drive home on Sunday and I thought that would be over doing it for me.
I later saw that it did go up to 38 degrees that day in Punxsutawney, higher than expected but the overnight Friday night into Saturday was 4 degrees and sorry but the thought of standing in Gobbler’s Knob for five and a half hours in that weather was too much. I did that in 2016 in 30 degrees and that was bad enough. I will wait until next year.
My blog on visiting Punxsutawney, PA in 2016 for Groundhog’s Day:
I then remembered that we have our own Groundhog Festival here in the New York City area at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Groundhog Chuck’, an event I had heard of in the past. So when I knew that driving to PA was out (I was assisting with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the Marcal Paper Factory fire on Wednesday night January 30th, 2019-See The Brothers of Engine One Blog site on WordPress.com that I write), I went online and looked at the festival that they had at the Staten Island Zoo.
My blog on the Marcal Paper Fire right before Groundhog’s Day:
So on a cold morning, I got up at 3:30am in the morning to get ready to go to Staten Island. It was not too much better on an early Saturday morning here as well. It was 19 degrees (versus 4 in PA) in Staten Island but off I drove into the darkness. The trip to the Staten Island Zoo was not that bad. I got to the zoo in forty minutes and there was plenty of parking. I guess not as many people had the same idea that I had. There were only about six other cars in the lot when I arrived.
A group of about ten of us were waiting outside the back gate when someone finally came to the gate and told us we were at the wrong gate. It would have been nice if some zoo personal was directing people to the parking lot (which was dark with not a lot of signage to see) and had a sign to go to the front gate.
When the ten of us got to the front gate we were lucky in that the TV crews had already set up and there were only about ten other people there at the time so we got great views of the stage.
Trust me this is WAY smaller than the festival in Punxsutawney, PA. There were about a hundred and fifty people there that I could see and that included the staff, the politicians, the choir from P.S. 29 and their parents and the crowd of us but that made it more intimate. You were not elbow to elbow with people and did not have to camp out for the night. The Staten Island Zoo did a nice job. I still think they should move it to a bigger area of the zoo so that the kids could see it. Also, it would have been nice to put the choir and the dancing Groundhog (a staff member dressed in a Groundhog costume) on the stage so that more people could have seen them.
The Zoo staff introduced some of the local politicians to the event. Some of them kept it short and sweet and a few others had to make it about themselves and bring up things in Washington DC, which I think at an event like this has no place for it. It is a family event.
Still one of the local politicians made a good MC for the event and then introduced a student from P.S. 29, who played the “Star-Spangled Banner” for us on her violin and that was followed by the P.S. 29 choir, who sang a song about Groundhog’s Day. It was really cute and the kids did a nice job entertaining the crowd (See the video below).
Groundhog’s Day 2019
The Groundhog Ceremony at the Staten Island Zoo 2019 (that’s me in the Spartan knit hat)
Then the band, “Rock a Silly” played their song for Staten Chuck and it was quite clever. (See the band’s video on YouTube below).
The Rock-A-Silly Band with their original song for “Staten Island Chuck” (I give the band full credit for this video-very clever guys!)
The band got the crowd really moving on this cold morning.
After all the entertainment, it was time to hear the report from Chuck and the handlers took him out. There was a little of a commotion and then the report came. In the middle of this ‘deep freeze vortex’ Chuck’s prediction was SPRING IS COMING! Everyone cheered loudly at that. With that, there was a little more entertainment, then I was off to tour the zoo.
The Staten Island Zoo is very nice even in the cold weather. I was able to go into the main building and see the monkey, the reptile and the aquarium exhibits, which were nicely displayed and labeled so that you knew what animals were what. The only problem with the zoo is the space is very limited and surrounded by houses so there is no room to expand, so the living space for the animals is small. Still they look happy and content.
I stopped at the Zoo Cafe for a doughnut ($1.00) and to look at the gift shop. They had an interesting ‘Staten Island Chuck’ stuffed groundhog ($12.00) that I had to keep myself from buying. The zoo gift shop is stocked with all sorts of ‘Chuck’ coloring books, tee shirts and little do-dads as well as plush animals, pencils, shirts and hats. The zoo cafe has the usual hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries on the menu that will appeal to any child.
I walked around the zoo as it started to warm up (now 25 degrees) and went to the outside pens to see the pigs, donkey’s, kangaroos, emus, geese and ducks. The poor emus looked so cold that they were chasing after me with a look in their eyes like either I had food or was going to take them inside. I really felt for the animals in this cold.
By the time I left the zoo, it was 9:45am and the zoo still had not opened. There was myself and two other families left in the early hours zoo and by the time I got back to the parking lot, there were only six cars left.
Even though it was not the crowds of the event in Punxsutawney, PA, it was still a cute event that you should not miss on future Groundhog’s Day when you are visiting New York City. The Staten Island Zoo puts on a good show!
Groundhog’s Day 2020:
In 2020, the ceremony was much toned down from the year before. First, the weather was much nicer than last year. I got up this year at 5:00am and was out the door by 6:15am. The zoo I found out last year is only thirty-five minutes from my house and I did not need to rush. The zoo does not have the crowds of Punxsutawney. Again there were about a hundred or so people at the zoo this morning and when the sun rose, it was warm and sunny about 43 degrees.
The ceremony was only twenty minutes this year. There was no band and no kids choir at the service. Being Super Bowl Sunday, it seemed to me that everyone wanted to get our of there and rushed the whole thing. There were the same politicians with the same lame jokes and it seemed that Speaker Corey Johnson is running for Mayor of New York City (Good Choice!). At least he admitted the jokes were lame and just wished everyone a Happy Groundhog’s Day.
Then they could not even get Chuck out of his Plexiglas pen to hold him up (the Groundhog kept running away. He probably didn’t like the jokes either), so they just announced the weather prediction of an early Spring and then they played a recording of the children’s choir singing and that was the program. We were done in about thirty minutes. It was so quick that a woman walked in with her son at 7:45am and asked if this was the ceremony. The guy standing next to me said that it was already over and they were packing up. She was a little pissed because she said to the guy that she just got dropped off with her son and her husband was parking the car. So much for pomp and circumstance!
After the ceremony, I walked around the zoo again and visited with the monkey’s, kangaroos and sheep. The ostriches and Emu’s were rather friendly this year and seemed more chipper than last year but it was because it was not as cold. In fact, most of the animals were out this year. So I just enjoyed my time walking around the zoo and stopped into the Zoo Snack Shop and had another doughnut (Still $1.00) and just relaxes. This year I did buy the stuffed Chuck from the gift shop (he now sits prominently near my Dayton’s Santa Bear, Hamley’s Bear, Macy’s Snoopy and Brooks Brother’s Brooks Bear (I love retail stuffed animals).
After the zoo, it was such a nice morning that I once again walked along the retail stretch of Forest Avenue near the zoo and zig-zagged through some of the stores that were open. People were getting ready for the Super Bowl so a lot of the food stores were busy with take out orders. Most of the restaurants were quiet.
I did stop into an old line Italian bakery, Moretti’s Bakery at 640 Forest Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) and have another doughnut. This time a creme filled powered doughnut ($1.25) and God was that good. They have a very nice selection of baked goods at very fair prices and good service.
Moretti’s Bakery at 640 Forest Avenue
After that I just walked through the local park and drove home. The whole thing was done this year in about an hour and a half. Oh well, off to the firehouse for the Super Bowl game.
The doughnuts at Moretti’s Bakery are delicious!
Here’s the ceremony in 2020!
I thought this commercial with Bill Murray and reuniting the cast from the film for this commercial:
This is very clever!
This interview with Bill Murray:
This is very clever!
The Groundhog Day trailer-Excellent film
Very clever cartoon when the Mayor dropped the Groundhog in Staten Island
Admission: Adults (15 and over) $10.00/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-16) $6.00/Wednesdays after 2:00pm is free to everyone. Free with membership. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
The Cafe and the Gift shop are open when the zoo is open.
To all of my readers and fellow bloggers following my blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. I created two more blog sites to accompany the main site.
I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ and ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ to take what I have discovered on the walk around the city and put it into more detail.
I created ‘VisitingaMuseum.com’ to feature all the small and medium museums, pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that I have found along the way in my walking the streets of the island and in the outlining areas of Manhattan. There are loads of sites you can easily miss either by not visiting the neighborhoods by foot or not consulting a guidebook. Most of the these places are not visited by most residents of the City and should not be missed.
I never realized how many small museums exist in New York City, let alone the outer boroughs and in New Jersey. I have discovered so many wonderful and interesting artifacts in these museums that not only have so much historical value but they also deal with local history.
Gallery Bergen at Bergen Community College
There are so many pocket parks, community gardens and historical sites that you would miss if you did not walk the neighborhoods. What has also been fascinating about it is the people you meet along the way that volunteer in these facilities. There is so much pride to be had by these local residents dedicating their time to make these places successful.
‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.Wordpress.com’ is my latest site:
I am featuring and promoting wonderful local restaurants that I have found along the way when doing the walk as well as places I have recently visited outside the city for $10.00 and below. I am not just featuring them for their price but for the quality of the food, the selection and the portion size.
Delicious Dumplings at ‘Dumplings’ on Henry Street
These little ‘hole in the wall’ dining establishments offer a good meal at a fair price as well as supporting the local economy. I have a very limited budget for meals and thought this blog site would help all of you economize when touring New York City and the outlying regions. I cross reference my reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
For anyone thinking of doing a similar project like ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, I want to let you know how expensive it is to do. I have to pay not just for bus tickets, subway passes, meals, donations to museums and historical sites but the general wear and tear on my clothes. I am on my third pair of sneakers due to this walk. This is why you need to set a budget for it:
Please check out my fire fighting blog sites, ‘The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association’, ‘tbcfma.Wordpress.com’, where I am blogging about the activities of the association that I am volunteering for at the home on a quarterly basis and the support that the organization gives to The New Jersey Firemen’s Home in Boonton, New Jersey. Firemen for all over Bergen County, where I live, volunteer their time up at the nursing home with activities to engage and cheer up our fellow fire fighters.
The second site about fire fighting I blog about is ‘The Brothers of Engine One Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department”, ‘EngineOneHasbrouckHeightsFireDepartmentNJ.Wordpress.com’, where I blog about the activities of Engine Company One, in which I am a member, as part of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department. We do a lot of volunteer work for the department and many of our members are very active and hold a lot of positions on the department.
The Brothers of Engine One HHFD (site now closed-Blogs moved to section of MywalkinManhattan.com called “My life as a Fireman”):
The most frequented of my blogs is “BergenCountyCaregiver.com’, a caregivers blog site to help adult caregivers take care of their loved ones. This helps caregivers navigate a very broken system and put all sorts of programs that might help them all in one place to read and chose what might help them. This deals with county, state and federal programs that most social workers miss because there are so many of them that don’t get a lot of attention. It is by far the most popular site.
The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association
I wanted to share these with my readers and thank you for following my main blog, ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. Please also share this with your friends who are visiting New York City to really tour the city by foot and see it for its own beauty and uniqueness.
(This project is dedicated with much love to my father, Warren George Watrel, who still inspires me!)
Hello and Welcome to ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’, an extensive project to walk the entire island of Manhattan. My name is Justin Watrel and I will be your guide in exploring the island of Manhattan, searching every nook and cranny of the island for the unusual, the usual and the in between.
‘Walking the Island of Manhattan’ may not be terribly original as there are about four other people doing the project at the same time, but this project is different in the way I see the island. Not rushing through to prove I have walked it but to see what these neighborhoods are all about and what is there to discover and enjoy.
For all you ‘Manhattanites’ who think you know your island, I will show you things that you have never seen and places you have never gone, restaurants you have never tried and historical sites and museums you never knew existed. Maybe just a few blocks from where you live. As the son of two “Brooklynites’, I have traveled around the city a lot since 1969, my first time in the City when my parents took me to Chinatown to Hunan Gardens, a Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. I ended up there for eight birthdays until it closed in the early 2000’s.
Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown
“My Walk in Manhattan” is a project to walk the entire island of Manhattan in New York City from top to bottom from the beginning of the Summer of 2015 until I finish the walk. Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide and covers a total area 23.7 square miles. Along the way of walking the streets of Manhattan, I will be walking into parks, museums, restaurants and looking at the architecture of the neighborhoods and the buildings in them.
My soon to be path around the Island of Manhattan
I have found that people miss a lot when they walk with their cellphones and only look down at it. When you look up, you see the true beauty of the City. You see the stone work of old brownstones, you see small boutiques off the beaten track and can indulge in those hole in the wall restaurants that are usually found by foreign tourists. Nothing is more interesting then seeing a stone face on a building staring back at you, a tiny pocket park that residents created out of a garbage dump and that small entrepreneur trying to create a vision.
The Cable Building at 631 Broadway
This project was inspired by many things. My major inspiration for this project follows the recent passing of my father, Warren George Watrel. My dad and I loved to walk around the city and spend the day at various museums, walking around Central Park and the Conservatory, taking the subway to try new restaurants in Chinatown or Little Italy or any new place I had read about in the Village Voice (my Bible when looking for things to do on weekends).
Columbus Circle on the West Side
My father was a ‘Brooklynite’ from Williamsburg (long before it was ‘Hipster Central’, he would have been amused) and loved the city, so this voyage is dedicated to him. Having watched the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, we look for inspiration in our travels and try to find the answers to why something happens the way it does. Walking to explore does that.
I was my father’s caregiver after his illness hit him and I continued my trips into Manhattan as my father got better. It was the inspiration to this site’s sister site, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’. After he passed in 2014, I wanted to spend Father’s Day doing something different yet do something that we would have done together. Thus started the first walk in Marble Hill.
My first Day in Marble Hill, Manhattan
Another inspiration was a recent article in New York Magazine entitled “Which New York is Yours? A Fierce Preservationist and a Pro-Development Blogger Debate” in which the author Justin Davidson asks about the disappearance of New York’s Character. “What does that character actually consist of? If we did make an all-out effort to preserve it, how would we know what to protect?” How much is the city changing? I have worked off and on in New York City since 1988 and the answer is in some parts of Manhattan it is night and day. Could you imagine walking in Bryant or Tompkins Square Parks in 1990?
I did and they were very different places back then. With the changing Zoning Laws and gentrification of many neighborhoods, its not the city of 1970’s movies. What I am looking for are those unique little pocket parks that we pass, those statues of people we have no clue who they are and those historic plaques of places gone by and people we don’t know.
Astor Row Houses in Harlem
Another are the books, ‘Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul’ by Jeremiah Moss and ‘The Death and Life of the Great American City’ by Jane Jacobs. How do cities keep progressing and changing? How does change effect a city and what direction are we going in? Does the Island of Manhattan have to be all luxury or can it be mixed to help keep the creativity alive and keep innovation going? Do we want the big bad 70’s again or the luxury brand of the 2010’s and 20’s? How is it impacting and changing the city? How much has Manhattan and the rest of the boroughs changed with the rezoning of the city under the Bloomberg Administration. This can also be looked at in the documentaries “Gut Renovation” and “My Brooklyn”.
The last inspiration was my doctor. He said I have to lose ten pounds. I am hardly over-weight but like many people he feels that I will be healthier if I lose the weight and keep it off. I want to see how a walk like this tones the body.
Bowling Green Park in Lower Manhattan
I know many people before have walked the entire length of Manhattan while others have or are attempting to walk the every block in the city, mine has a more personal reason. To really see the city I love from the ground up and explore parts of the island that I have never ventured to and see what I find there. Along the way, I want to see how the city changes while I am taking the walk. This is not the “Christopher Columbus” attitude most people are taking when exploring the neighborhoods but more honoring those residents who are trying to make the City better.
My project also includes stops at various points of interest and to get a better feel for all the neighborhoods, I am walking both sides of the street to get a better look at the buildings in each neighborhood and what defines the character of a neighborhood. I get the impression from some of the readers of Mr. Davidson’s article and from comments on the Internet that Manhattan is some “playground of the wealthy that is being gentrified to the hilt and soon no one will be able to afford any part of Manhattan”. Like in any place, there are people struggling everyday to survive in New York and like every city in the country, people are moving back in droves and want a quality of life for them and their families.
Delacorte Clock in Central Park
In the Age of COVID, it has been interesting starting the project again. I had been on hold from March 13th, 2020 through June 10th, 2020 when the City was closed for anyone other than First Responder and people who had to work there. I was so happy when I could return and continue walking Manhattan. My walk down Broadway for the forth time was a surprise with all the businesses closed on the Upper West Side and I met the challenge of “The Great Saunter Walk” , the 32 mile walk around the perimeter of the island in 14 hours. There is now more to see and explore and write.
The COVID world though has me facing closed businesses that I have covered over the years. Restaurants and stores that I have mentioned in this blog since 2015 have since closed permanently or closed for the time being, I am not too sure. We also have a walking world of masks that keep us safe. The times in Manhattan are changing from the way we eat in restaurants to the way we shop and visit museums.
SoHo boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Fifth Avenue boarded up after the June Riots 2020
Things are constantly changing in Manhattan since the riots in June and COVID keeps raging in the City with people not wanting to wear masks. I hope that things will get back to normal soon. I still see people out and about doing their thing and enjoying the warm weather so I am optimistic about life. Still though, Manhattan keeps changing with the Theater District boarded up and Chinatown looking like a ghost town. We will see how New York City recovers from COVID like the rest of the country.
I have now expanded this site to three other blogs, ‘VisitingaMuseum’ (VisitingaMuseum.com), which features all the historical sites, community gardens and small museums and galleries I find in not just Manhattan but throughout the rest of the NYC and beyond in the suburbs.
‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ (DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com), where I feature wonderful little restaurants, bodegas and bakeries that I find along the way. The one requirement is that the meal is around $10.00 and under (for us budget minded people).
“LittleShoponMainStreet” (LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com) where I find unique and creative stores in Manhattan and locally whose merchandising, displays, merchandise and service stand out in an age of Amazon. This harks back to a time when shopping was enjoyable and not a chore.
I have also added two new sections to the blog, “My life as a Fireman”, which I have moved from an old site that I had created for my old engine company to describe my experiences on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department over the last 16 years. Also, this is what takes up my time when I am not exploring New York City.
Justin Watrel, Fireman
Another is “A Local Journey” are tours of downtown’s and communities outside the New York City area to travel to when you need to escape the City’s clutches. I have specific guidelines in finding stores, restaurants and museums/cultural sites in the area. This has lead me to really explore my own town of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and exploring out of town destinations like Red Hook, NY and Beach Haven/Long Beach Island, NJ. You would be amazed on what these small towns offer.
Downtown Red Hook, NY in the Summer months
With COVID still rearing its head when I am in New York City, I do everything to stay safe from being fully vaccinated (I have take both shots and no I have not turned into a ‘Pod Person’) to wearing a mask and keeping hand sanitizer on me. I abide by all NYC Parks rules and try to stay away from people when in museums and restaurants.
Even with all its problems, New York City is still the most exciting City on earth and follow the blog, neighborhood by neighborhood and join me in discovering what makes Manhattan one of the greatest places on Earth!
So to readers who will be following me on the journey walking through Manhattan and beyond, I hope you enjoy trip walking by my side!
Me in Red Hook, Brooklyn discovering my new love in “Street Art”
This project is dedicated to my father, Warren George Watrel, with lots of love and many wonderful adventures and memories to keep me company as I take “My Walk in Manhattan”.
My dad, Warren and I at a Grandparent’s Day Brunch in 2013
‘Break My Stride’ still plays in my mind when I do this walk.
This walking song plays in my mind when I start ‘Walking’. Thank you Mary Mary!