2013-09-13 / Columnists

Go Parks!

By Sarah Grimke Aucoin

Sarah Grimke Aucoin and friend. Sarah Grimke Aucoin and friend. September's last warm rays of summer sun and October's crisp reminder that it’s autumn make this a perfect time to plan an outdoor excursion to enjoy the colors of the season before winter's chill may send many of us inside.

And contrary to what some people may think, New York City is the ideal place to explore the beauty and tap into the restorative quality of the natural world at this, or any, time of year.

The commitments of school and work make it hard to plan long escapes, and the option of discovering all that your backyards— our Parks—have to offer that much more appealing and necessary.

In my family, we consider fall the best time for camping. The heat and bugs of summer are gone, replaced by warm days and cool nights, perfect for evening storytelling, night hikes, star-gazing, and sleeping outdoors. And you don't have to leave New York City (or even your neighborhood!) to enjoy this time-honored family activity.

The National Park Service offers public camping at two locations in New York City: Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, which is part of the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks joint agreement between NYC Parks and NPS. There are 38 primitive camp sites at Floyd Bennett Field, and reservations can be made online at www.recreation.gov.

If you are excited about camping but not comfortable heading out on your own, join NYC Parks' Urban Park Rangers on a Family Camping program at sites around the City through the end of September. The Urban Park Rangers will bring the tents, the s'mores and the camping know-how; you just have to bring dinner, a sleeping bag or blankets, and a sense of adventure.

On these programs, the Rangers will teach you and your family how to set up a tent and lead activities such as night hikes, star-gazing, s'more making and storytelling. For more on this program and all the Rangers’ programs, visit our pages on the Parks website http://www.nycgovparks.org/programs/rangers.

A great way to discover all that parks in New York City have to offer would be to join us for the Jamaica Bay by Land, Sea and Air event on September 29th at Floyd Bennett Field.

Hosted by NYC Parks and the National Parks Service, this event will introduce you and your family to all of the unusual and exciting ways to explore our natural areas, including camping, kayaking, biking, fishing, bird watching, history tours and more. In addition to showcasing these outdoor activities, there will be live music, a storyteller, live birds of prey and nature crafts to keep everyone in your family entertained for the afternoon.

Fall is also an ideal time to grab your binoculars (or borrow a pair from your friendly neighborhood Ranger) and head out on a hike to spot migrating birds of prey. As the weather cools, raptors migrate from the north to various large parks in New York City, including parks around Jamaica Bay. Some of the migrants that arrive in the fall include the Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, and Northern Harrier. To learn more about these majestic birds of prey, and to experience the thrill of viewing New York City's premier predators, live and up close, the Urban Park Rangers and the Prospect Park Alliance are holding Raptor Fest in Prospect Park on October 13th.

Camping, hiking, bird watching, and star gazing - who ever thought you could enjoy these outdoor activities without leaving the big City? With almost a quarter of the big city--41,000 acres of NYC Parks, NPS facilities and NY State parks—open and available for your exploring pleasure, it would be a shame not to. And the Urban Park Rangers will keep leading programs all winter, too. Keep checking the Parks website.

So get out there. GO EXPLORE! GO PARK!

Sarah Grimke Aucoin, a native of California and the Director of NYC Parks Urban Park Rangers, moved from Arizona to New York City for the wildlife. She has been with the Rangers for 13 years and lives in the Bronx with her husband and two sons.

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