2013-08-16 / Columnists

Go Parks!

By Dorothy Lewandowski

Dorothy Lewandowski is the Queens Parks Commissioner, an American Canoe Association Level 3 Coastal Kayak Instructor and a lifelong Queens resident. Dorothy Lewandowski is the Queens Parks Commissioner, an American Canoe Association Level 3 Coastal Kayak Instructor and a lifelong Queens resident. This is a big city with so many ways to spend your leisure time. But with 160 square miles of rivers, bays, creeks, inlets and ocean, what better way is there to enjoy New York than being on the water? Canoeing and kayaking along our waterways offer the perfect opportunity to have a great and memorable day.

My interest in kayaking began 10 years ago while working in the Bronx for NYC Parks. Behind the Bartow-Pell Mansion in Pelham Bay Park there is a body of water known as The Lagoon. This tranquil water, which in 1964 had been the site of the Olympic Rowing Trials, flows past Hunter and Hog Islands to the waters of Pelham Bay and beyond. I would often view these areas from land and long to explore the shorelines from the water’s edge.

While growing up in Queens, I was always drawn to the water. My husband has always been more comfortable with both feet planted firmly on dry ground. So after some convincing (smile) we decided together to try a new sport. It has turned out that we both love it. Since those early days we have kayaked locations within all five boroughs of NYC, upstate New York, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Florida, Alaska and the Greek Islands! But my most frequent paddling is within easy reach of all New Yorkers on Jamaica Bay along the shores of Brooklyn and Queens as a member of the Sebago Canoe Club. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife refuge is an amazing oasis with skyline views of Manhattan, shorebirds, rap- tors, waterfowl, jumping fish, horseshoe crabs, turtles and incredible skies all day, especially at sunrise and sunset.

There are many places to paddle and today NYC Parks, the National Park Service (NPS) and communitybased paddling organizations across the five boroughs offer both free programs and rentals for beginners and families to enjoy. Through a collaborative arrangement with NYC Parks and NPS, the company Wheel Fun Rentals operates three kayak rental stations at Marine Park, Canarsie Pier and Riis Landing. Wheel Fun offers single and double kayaks as well as stand up paddleboards for rent by the hour or for a half or full day of fun. They are also renting unique bikes at each of these locations. And with the creation of the New York City Water Trail in 2007, under the Bloomberg Administration, opportunities continue to grow with more than 46 locations around the city for both novice and experienced paddlers to spend a few hours of tranquil paddling or a fullday expedition. New Yorkers (and visitors) from all neighborhoods can enjoy skyline panoramas, riverside parks, bird sanctuaries, tidal marshlands, and boundless vistas of one of the world’s premier harbors, all from a prime sea-level vantage.

Having fun is a main goal on the water and learning a new skill is always interesting, but safety must be of the utmost importance. Many of the paddling groups have members who are certified as instructors and trip leaders by the American Canoe Association. These volunteers spend time practicing their on-water skills and enjoy sharing this knowledge. This is a great way to meet new people while safely exploring natural areas of the city.

So before you head out on the water there are a few things you should have: a willingness to learn something new and the understanding you are sure to get wet along the way (which is why quick-dry clothing is preferable over cotton). Your pack should include, sunscreen, drinking water, a hat and sunglasses. Leave your camera with a friend on the shore. To find more about paddling opportunities and NYC paddling organizations:  

www.nyc.gov/parks ; :http//www.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/events.htm ; http://wheelfunrentals.com/Locations.aspx or www.nycwatertrail.org .

Stay safe. Happy paddling. Go Park.

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