Story of the Daylighting

aerial photo of the saw mill river

The term daylighting is used to describe the restoration of rivers that have been covered up with concrete, usually as a result of past public works in urban areas.

For more than a decade the Saw Mill River Coalition led the effort to bring the Saw Mill River to daylight. Part of the revitalization of downtown Yonkers, this project has enormous ecological, economic and cultural significance. In November of 2011, after many years of organizing, waters began to flow above ground in downtown Yonkers for the first time in 90 years – a major achievement for both the Coalition and the City of Yonkers.

With the aboveground riverbed we have recreated 13,775 square feet of aquatic habitat, including a tidal pool and two freshwater pools. The natural river now flows parallel to the preexisting underground flume, which now serves as an overflow channel to protect the integrity of the new park and the downtown area from floods.

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The old Larkin Plaza, including the parking lot that sat on top of the underground river, was renamed Van Der Donck Park. The Grand Opening occurred in 2012. The Saw Mill River Coalition worked with local partners and community stakeholders – including the City of Yonkers, the Project for Public Spaces, the Public Library, the Beczak Environmental Education Center, the Friends of Philipse Manor Hall, and area businesses – to develop the interpretive elements for this new space. Through educational exhibits, residents and visitors can investigate the river’s history and the various ways in which human activity has affected its ecology over the past 400 years.

Groundwork has used the work on the park and river as a catalyst to engage area youth and residents in stewardship. In 2014, the US Fish & Wildlife Service designated Van der Donck Park as a National Fish and Wildlife Urban Refuge, to foster a new generation of urban river stewards.

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Click here to learn more about how this project inspired other daylighting efforts across the Groundwork network.

Since then, the City of Yonkers has championed three more initiatives to daylight other parts of the Saw Mill River. Daylighting Phase II – The Mill Street Courtyard, was completed in 2016.


In 2018, Daylighting Phase III – at New Main Street – was completed.


And plans are underway for Daylighting Phase IV – at Chicken Island.