Archive for the ‘Stay in the city’ Category

Staten Island Greenbelt

September 27, 2013

The Staten Island Greenbelt is a large network of wooded trails situated in a what is undoubtedly the greenest borough in the city. Rather than being one cohesive park, it is comprised of patches of existing park and newly acquired parkland cobbled together by the Greenbelt Conservancy. Unlike regular parks in the city, this one includes a golf course and a country club, with numerous trails intersecting and running askew like a subway map. The shortest trail is 4 miles, while the longest is 12 miles one-way.

My initial reason for coming here was to visit the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. If it was anything like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, we were in for a treat. Unfortunately, the only trail they have there was not well-maintained, with the vegetation at some point threatening to swallow us up. So we doubled-back and decided to do a different trail towards the ruin of a colonial-era home on Heyerdahl Hill. The woods in that area is supposed to be haunted with the 200-year old spirit of a child on a pale horse. We didn’t spot any ghosts, but we did find the ruin with a surprise geocache!

This was the first weekend with temperatures in the 60s, and we were quite happy to see signs of fall approaching.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

There are a few areas that are designated swamps, but the two swamps that we passed by were more like open fields that showed their swampy nature only around the edges.

Staten Island Greenbelt

The Heyerdahl ruin is not too impressive, once you find it. I was more interested in the geocache that was hidden there. My first one! If you want to see this place, make sure you have a map with you – it is a detour off the red trail, so you need to keep your eye out for a very narrow and unmarked trail. Because the red trail is a loop, you can access the unmarked trail from two different points on opposite ends of the loop.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

We then headed towards another part of the Greenbelt called High Rock Park. We saw a garter snake and several frogs.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

The park borders a lake and two ponds – all very nice to walk by with no danger of mosquitoes at this time of year.

Staten Island Greenbelt

Staten Island Greenbelt

Because the Greenbelt is smack in the middle of Staten Island, the only way I would recommend getting here is by car. When I stopped off at the Nature Center, I overheard some poor woman say she took two subways, the ferry, and then a bus to get here. That is insane! Entrance to the park and parking is free. Dogs are welcome, but no bikes are allowed on the trails. Ticks are an issue, as many of the signs are happy to point out. Wear light-colored clothing and knee-high socks.

FDR Four Freedoms Park

September 20, 2013

This relatively new park is dedicated to one of our great presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “Four Freedoms” bears some explaining because most people alive today probably were not around when it was first introduced. In a nationwide speech that Roosevelt gave in 1941, he imagined a world based on the following four attributes – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It is sad that 72 years later, these freedoms are still lacking in much of the world.

Dropped onto the southern end of Roosevelt Island, the park has views of both Manhattan and Queens. Aside from the views, the park itself is what I would call “earnest,” with a symmetrical severity punctuated by cold concrete. The park was designed 38 years ago, when the city budget didn’t allow for it.  Some might say it resembles a Soviet-era monument.

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

FDR Four Freedoms Park

A nice view of Long Island City!

FDR Four Freedoms Park

Despite all that open grass, you are not allowed to picnic on it.  No food is allowed.  It doesn’t really give off the vibe of a casual place to hang out.  Given that, I would only recommend coming here if you happen to be on Roosevelt Island anyway.  The park is a 15 minute walk from the train station if you’re coming by subway. If you’re driving, you will need to park near the station. (The only parking closer to the park is limited to visitors and staff of the nursing facility nearby.) The park is open from 9 to 7 every day except Tuesdays.  No bikes or dogs are allowed.

Fort Wadsworth

July 5, 2013

This Fort has been around since the Revolutionary War and was first fortified by the British. Since then, it has been used by Americans through various wars for two centuries, from the War of 1812 to the Cold War. Today, the US Coast Guard occupies the grounds and the land is open to the public as a recreational area maintained by the National Park Service.

Many military batteries dot the grounds. Battery Tompkins is the first one you encounter as you enter the area. Like the other structures that you’ll see here, it has seen better days and is slowly being taken over by nature. You can go inside the battery through a guided tour.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Tompkins is also interesting for its dry moat. There are niches inside the battery walls for shooting the enemy once they are trapped in the moat.

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Weed is probably the most picturesque of the batteries here. You get your first glimpse of it from above at a lookout point.

Fort Wadsworth

While you are walking down to Weed, you also encounter other dilapidated structures that speak to more dangerous times.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

You also get to see the underbelly of the Verrazano!

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Battery Weed befits its name. You can see the inside of the battery by guided tour only. We unfortunately didn’t stay long enough to do the afternoon tours that were available.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

Once you walk back to the lookout point to get to your car, see if you can find the Statue of Liberty in the distance. She’s a tiny green dot in the horizon but thankfully, they provide a free telescope. You can also see the progress of the Freedom Tower. Looks like it’s almost done!

Fort Wadsworth

The Fort is easy to get to by car. It’s at the end of the Verrazano Bridge once you reach Staten Island.  If you are coming by ferry, you can take the S51 bus and it will drop you off right at the Fort. No dogs are allowed but bikes are welcome. The Fort is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. For those of you who want to see the Fort at night, there are lantern tours on Thursdays from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. I can only imagine how much spookier this place is in the dark!

Socrates Sculpture Park

June 21, 2013

This park used to be an illegal dumping ground before a group of artists and people from the community saved it and molded it into what it is today. While I wouldn’t call this a destination, this park has a few things going for it that merit a look if you’re in the area, say, picking up that 3 gallon jar of peanut butter at Costco or visiting the Noguchi Museum nearby. As you can guess by the name, the park has art. Large art. Installations come and go, and sometimes the art is fascinating, and other times it’s just weird and maybe a little uncomfortable. Regardless, there is plenty of lawn space to showcase the creative spirit with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Some other things that weigh in its favor for a visit are the movie screenings in the summer and the greenmarket on Saturdays. There is also the occasional crafts fair. I don’t visit this park often, but stop by from time to time to see the changing exhibits. Here are a few pics from prior visits.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

This unusual visitor in the water is not a piece of art – I’m not sure what he was looking for, but due to the park’s history, there may very well be buried treasure in the water!

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park is at the intersection of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway in Long Island City. You can take the N or Q to the Broadway stop and then walk 8 blocks west to the river. By bus, the Q103 and Q104 will drop you off at the entrance. The park is open every day from 10am to sunset.

Alley Pond Park

June 14, 2013

Over 600 acres, this park is the second largest in Queens – it’s so large it has its own golf course. Before you grab that super duper golf club, I do have to point out that it’s limited to a driving range and miniature golf. This park has a dizzying array of recreational spots. In addition to golf, you’ll catch folks enjoying a game of baseball, tennis, soccer, football, handball, basketball, even cricket! There are also plenty of wide open lawn spots for barbecues and picnics.

Look at these guys playing cricket in super white!
Alley Pond Park

Much of the park still holds value as an active ecosystem with wetlands and forests. In fact, it’s considered the most ecologically diverse park owned by the city. If you are a bird watcher, you’re in for a treat. The park hosts hundreds of thousands of migrating birds twice each year, from loons to warblers.

So let me segway into the hiking here. There are several easy trails you can take in the park. They’re nice and shady, with changes in elevation via concrete or dirt steps. When you take these trails, carefully avoiding the ones alongside the highway, you actually feel like you’re somewhere else far from the city.

Alley Pond Park

I debated whether or not to show you this next picture, but in the interest of making people aware, I decided to do it. These are the kettle ponds, clustered in a set of three, along several of the trails. They’re stinky and full of bright green algae. Avoid if you can. One of them is called Turtle Pond, but alas, I didn’t stop long enough to look for any. Yes…it was that stinky!

Alley Pond Park

One other thing that I’d like to point out that’s unique to this park is its Adventure Course. It’s a program for people to get together in teams and compete in an obstacle course. You must register beforehand and you don’t need to bring a group to participate. If you come alone, they will assign you to a team. As you can see in the pics, it’s a course that tests your endurance and fear of heights, among other things. It also includes a zip line somewhere (couldn’t find it).

Alley Pond Park

Alley Pond Park

I think the Catamount treetop course Upstate is much more challenging, but if you like the idea of a free day of muscle-building at a local park with strangers (or friends), this may be up your ‘alley!’

Alley Pond Park is in Douglaston/Little Neck. It’s more easily accessible by car, but you could take the 7 to Main Street and then the Q27 from there. Dogs and bikes are allowed. For bikers, there is a bike path from here that takes you all the way to Flushing Meadows Park.

Flushing Meadows Park – World’s Fair tour

June 7, 2013

I normally wouldn’t tell you to go out of your way to visit this park. It’s somewhat worn around the edges due to lack of upkeep. The lawns are patchy in the summer and the fountain at the Unisphere now gets turned on only during the U.S. Open. It’s a shame given its potential to be a great park. The fact that it’s the fourth largest park in the city, and the largest park in Queens, ought to generate some civic pride, but alas, it doesn’t get the same respect as smaller green spaces in the wealthier parts of the city.

What this park does have going for it that’s unique and worth the trek out is its treasure trove of World’s Fair relics. The park was host to not one but two World’s Fairs – one in 1939 and the other in 1964. Most of you have probably seen the Unisphere and the strange rusty towers jutting into the sky on your way to and from LaGuardia, but have you ever taken the step to see these structures up close from the ground? Their imposing facades hide a rich history of people’s hopes and dreams from two different eras. What you learn about these structures might surprise you, and the key to unlocking their secrets is just a tour away!

The urban park rangers hold free scheduled tours of the World’s Fair sculptures and buildings scattered throughout the park. The tour is about 2 hours long and covers a lot of ground. Since I encourage people to get out there and actually do the tour, I won’t cover the details of the tour itself – only pictures from the tour that I took to whet your appetite!

There’s a family of red-tailed hawks that live on the Unisphere.  If you bring binoculars, you can spot their nest on  top of Portugal!

World's Fair Tour

This building is from the 1939 World’s Fair.  It used to house the United Nations.  It has definitely seen better days!

World's Fair Tour

I call these the mechanical mushrooms.  They are part of the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.

World's Fair Tour

Also part of the Pavilion.

World's Fair Tour

I remember coming here as a kid to marvel at the beautiful colored tiles on the floor.  They formed the largest highway map of New York State.  Sadly, the tiles have since been removed.

World's Fair Tour

They dreamed of robots.

World's Fair Tour

Ethnic representation at the fair.

World's Fair Tour

The Rocket Thrower from the 1964 World’s Fair

World's Fair Tour

To see when the next tour takes place, go to the park’s calendar. The park is easily accessible by subway.  Take the 7 train and get off at Mets-Willets Point.  This is a long tour, so I strongly suggest sunscreen and water.

Kissena Park

May 10, 2013

Out of all the parks in Queens, Kissena Park is probably my favorite. I don’t think too many people know about it, and I’m including Queens residents in this count as well. It’s also hard to get to by public transportation, so that definitely factors into the equation. The park lays claim to a huge lake with ducks and turtles aplenty taking advantage of the water. There are wide expanses of lawn for a picnic or an afternoon siesta. For the sports-minded, there are also tennis courts, basketball courts, and even a golf course next door. The park in general seems to be more carefully maintained than other Queens parks. I wonder why?  It’s a shame Flushing Meadow Park couldn’t be this nice.

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

The best way to get to Kissena Park is by car. It’s located in what I call “deep Flushing” – far enough away from the Main St # 7 subway station that you will need to catch the Q17 bus after you arrive by subway. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes down Kissena Boulevard. Dogs and bikes are welcome in the park. I suggest you bring a picnic blanket, grab some take-out at any number of Chinese restaurants in Main St, and have a picnic here!

Randall’s Island

June 15, 2012

Randall’s Island is a formidable chunk of land in the East River wedged between Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.  It was opened up as a park in the 1930’s by Franklin Roosevelt.  Since then, it has undergone many uses, the most current being a recreational area for a variety of sports. The concentration of sports fields in this park is unbelievable – well over 50! Name a sport and the park can probably accommodate your team. There is also a golf center, a tennis center, and a track and field stadium.  Not to be remiss, bikers, joggers, and casual walkers get plenty of pavement along the shoreline. Fishermen can also be found lined up along the shore looking for a good catch.

The park recently hosted an arts and music exhibition called Flow.12, featuring the works of five artists. The pieces are site-specific and will be around all summer. This one, called Meters To The Center, is by Laura Kaufman.

Randall's Island

This island is by no means the next Governors Island, but it does have expansive views of Manhattan, large fields of grass and trees for picnicking, and the  East river rushing by on either side.

Randall's Island

Randall's Island

We shared a brief moment with this little fella.

Randall's Island

For those of you who like bridges, the southern part of the island has not one, not two, but three vying for your attention!  This is the footbridge that connects to Manhattan on 103rd Street.

Randall's Island

Here is the Triboro Bridge (you will need to torture this diehard NYer before she uses the new name!)
Randall's Island

…and in the distance you get a view of the Hell’s Gate Bridge.
Randall's Island

There are many ways to get to the island.  From Manhattan, you can walk or bike across on the newly opened footbridge at 103rd St.  If you prefer public transportation, you can hop on the M35 bus at the NW corner of 125th Street and Lexington Ave.  Folks from the Bronx can use the pedestrian ramp at Cypress Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard, which deposits you at the northern end of the island. The ramp in Queens is at Hoyt Avenue and 28th Street, adjacent to the Astoria Boulevard N/W station.  It deposits you mid-island. By car, access is off the Triboro Bridge. Be aware that there is a $6.25 toll to enter the island.

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and Gardens

May 26, 2012

If you are a fan of Wave Hill in the Bronx, you will want to visit this mansion on the other side of the borough.  Similar to Wave Hill, you will find yourself at an estate surrounded by beautiful greenery and a coastline nearby.  The grounds are not as extensive at Bartow-Pell, but there is plenty of space for a nice picnic and you can enjoy the grounds for free.

Bartow-Pell Mansion

Bartow-Pell Mansion

Bartow-Pell Mansion

I highly recommend the guided tour of the mansion that takes place every 15 minutes past the hour from 12:15 to 3:15.  You really get a feel for how the upper crust lived in the 1800’s.   This mansion was built in 1790, and back in the day, its neighbors were other mansions.  All the other mansions were destroyed in the late 1800’s to make way for Pelham Bay Park, but the city kept this one and rented it out for several decades before turning it into a museum.

Bartow-Pell Mansion

Bartow-Pell Mansion

Bartow-Pell Mansion

Bartow-Pell Mansion

To the side of the mansion is the two-story carriage house that also contains a basement and its own cistern.
Bartow-Pell Mansion

Ideally, you will want to drive here, because the alternative is a subway ride and then a bus. Directions for car and public transportation can be found here.  The mansion is open on Wed, Sat, and Sun from 12pm to 4pm.  Some special events take place on these and other days.  There are trails nearby that will take you to the bay, but beware of poison ivy and bring insect repellent.

Fort Tilden

November 26, 2011

Queens lays claim to not one, but two abandoned forts.  The first one that I reviewed, Fort Totten, is in the northeast corner of Queens. The one in this post is in the southeast corner of Queens, in the Rockaways. Somewhat less impressive than the other one in terms of creepiness factor, it is still worthy of a visit because of the beautiful beach close by. Fort Tilden is actually part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jacob Riis Park/Beach to the east. The fort was built in 1917 and housed an impressive array of large weaponry, including cannons and air defense missiles, to defend the city from attack. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. In 1974, the fort was decommissioned and became part of the National Park Service.

Fort Tilden is open year-round and despite having a nice sandy beach and plenty of folks visiting in the summer, it has no lifeguards on duty. If you are in a mood for a swim, this is not the beach for you. Also, if you like to avoid crowds when possible, like I do, I suggest going here during the off-season, from mid-September to mid-April. During this time, you will be able to park at the fisherman’s parking lot off of Beach 193rd St, on Shore Road, rather than at the lot for Jacob Riis Park on the eastern side of the island.

I do recommend parking at the fisherman’s lot so that you can easily walk to the two historical structures that the fort is famous for – Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West. The trail that leads to the Battery Harris West is across from the lot. This is what the beginning of the trail looks like. You can bring your dog for a walk here and it is also a good jogging trail.

Fort Tilden

Shortly into the trail, you will encounter a large shed-like structure. I’m not sure what this was originally, perhaps a garage for armored vehicles? I don’t recommend going too far inside because of the broken glass.

Fort Tilden

Further on, you will see a monstrous structure looming ahead that looks like spacecraft hiding inside a hill. This is Battery Harris West.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

As you can see, this place is padlocked so you can’t wander around, but if you are set on it, you could probably jump the low fencing where there is a gap in the vertical bars. I don’t recommend it though.

Fort Tilden

Battery Harris East, just a few steps away, looks pretty similar to its sibling. The security on this one is a little tighter.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Some of the graffiti here made me smile.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

There is a large pool of stagnant water in this one and I can only imagine how bad it can be in the summer when it is infested with mosquitoes.

Fort Tilden

Before you head out to the beach, definitely check out the panoramic view of distant Coney Island, Manhattan, and the Marine Parkway Bridge leading into the island. The stairs next to the battery will take you up to the viewing platform.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Apparently there is bad blood between the islanders and day-tripping hipsters. Ha ha.

Fort Tilden

At this point, you will probably want to head to the beach. The trail is just in front of the battery.

Fort Tilden

The thing that struck me right away about this beach is the large number of weathered wood posts clustered everywhere. They go vertically and horizontally across the beach and I guess they may have been part of one or more piers at some point? Notice how clean the sand is. It is very dense.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

The easiest way to get to Fort Tilden is to drive. The toll before you reach the bridge to the island is $3.25 each way.  Like I said, you should be able to park at the fisherman lot during the off-season.  In-season, you will need a permit or you will be asked to park at Jacob Riis Park.

My understanding is that it is somewhat difficult to get here by public transportation, requiring several buses or a transfer from train to bus, then a half hour walk from the bridge. In the summer, the New York Beach Ferry provides service from Friday to Sunday from Pier 11 at Wall St. It takes you to Riis Landing between Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The park is open every day from dawn to dusk.