By William Beavers
Spring is here and with the warmer weather come many ways to enjoy New York’s fabulous parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities. Here are five parks we’ve selected that offer something for everyone—whether it’s a concert or movie, a crafts or language class, or simply beautiful scenery where you can stop to smell the flowers.
Volunteer: Give Back to Your Parks
The NYC Parks and Recreation Department and its partners hold events throughout the year asking New Yorkers to pitch in and paint, clean, rake, and generally take care of the city’s great park system. (There are a total of 1,700 parks.) Groups and individuals are welcome at volunteer events across the city. To reach out to Partnerships for Parks, click here.
Central Park is a great place to visit all year round, but in spring, it’s really outstanding. By now, it’s adorned with cherry blossoms and magnolia flowers. Take some time to visit Lilac Walk, a pathway that runs along the north side of Sheep Meadow, home to more than 20 varieties of lilacs. Or head to Azalea Walk, a short walk away just south of the Eaglevale Arch. Upcoming scheduled events include:
Conservatory Garden Tour
Every Saturday staff of the Conservatory Garden (Fifth Avenue and 105th Street) take you through the only formal garden in Central Park. And it’s a beauty, too, worthy of its European models, but markedly different from them. Its six acres include thousands of trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals. The route involves a few stairs. And except for extreme weather, the tours take place rain or shine. Groups of 7 or more must schedule a custom tour three weeks in advance. For the latest information, to schedule a group tour, or to see more dates, click here.
Free Shakespeare in the Park
Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival originally toured the city parks and playgrounds on a flatbed truck. Since 1962 its home has been the Delacorte Theater, built by Robert Moses. This season’s offerings include The Tempest, May 27-July 5, and Cymbeline, July 23-Aug. 23. For the different ways to get tickets as well as program information and directions, click here.
This Brooklyn park’s 585 acres features 90-acre Long Meadow, the Picnic House, Prospect Park Zoo, the Boathouse (a visitors center), and Audubon Center, the borough’s only lake, and the Prospect Park Bandshell that hosts free outdoor concerts in the summertime. The park’s sports facilities include 7 baseball diamonds, a Tennis Center, basketball courts, soccer fields, and the New York Pétanque Club in the Parade Ground. For general park information, click here. Here are a few of our favorite upcoming events:
The trained Urban Park Rangers will lead you on canoe adventures that range from the gentle waters of protected lakes to the challenging open waters of rivers and bays. Basic Canoe programs are great for all skill levels. This program is for ages 8 and up. Unlike other offerings described here, this one seems to be available one time only: Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 1 pm. For details click here.
Introduction to Bird Watching
Learn how to distinguish birds through their individual personalities and behavior. Birding is, moreover, great exercise for all fitness levels. Join the Prospect Park Alliance and its partner the Brooklyn Bird Club to learn about the magnificent array of birds that call the park home. Offered every Saturday. For details, click here.
At only 9.6 acres Bryant Park sounds small, yet its efficient design creates an expansive central lawn, and rambling outer walks under soaring sycamores that provide much cool shade in summer. There are numerous food concessions, and during the summer movies are shown on the lawn to large and convivial crowds. Fun fact: buried beneath the lawn are the New York Public Library’s extensive subterranean book stacks housing some 2.5 million volumes. For park information, click here.
Every Wednesday until June 24, you can learn to dance on the Fountain Terrace in Bryant Park 6-7pm. After you master the steps to Samba or Tango, you can continue to show off your newly-found skills during the live music dance party that follows from 7pm to 8:30pm. This is a fun event to watch, even if you don’t want to flaunt your own moves.
Though historical references date to the 12th century, the shift towards fencing as a sport rather than a military skill occurred in the mid-18th century, and was led by Domenico Angelo’s fencing academy in London. Today you can study this modern sport which is full of fitness benefits with masters from the Manhattan Fencing Center. No prior experience is needed and equipment is provided. Call (212) 382-2255 to pre-register or take a chance and drop by. You must be 16 or older to participate. For more information, click here to check out the fencing post on the Bryant Park Blog.
Learn some basic Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, or Spanish at these free summer classes from Inlingua. These one-time courses are meant to whet your appetite for further language learning — and it’s a great way to assess your real interest in such courses. If registration for a given day’s class is full, you may wish to take a chance and just drop in. The instructors are often able to accommodate walk-ins. This event occurs every Monday 11:45–12:30 pm. For more detail, click here.
NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN
Many New Yorker’s know of the NYBG’s 50 different specialty gardens, its 40-acre, original, old-growth forest, and late 19th century crystal-palace style greenhouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. But fewer know about its scientific role. The Garden’s Pfizer Research Laboratory is a major new institution that opened in 2005. It’s a pure research institution with projects more diverse than many universities or pharmaceutical companies. Its current emphasis is on plant genomics. There are numerous public programs, too. A few of which we spotlight below. Admission: Adult $20, Senior 65+ $18, Student with valid ID $18, Children 2-12 $8, Child under 2 Free.
The Edible Academy
This program provides hands-on gardening activities for children and adults alike. The gardening takes place every afternoon, with topics changing monthly. Mario Batali’s Kitchen Gardens are now open and Cooking Demonstrations run throughout the summer on select days in the Whole Foods Market Family Garden Kitchen. For more detail, click here.
Frida Kahlo: Art Garden Life
This exhibition (May 16 – Nov 1) examines artist Frida Kahlo’s appreciation for the beauty and variety of the natural world, as evinced by her home, garden, and the complex use of plant imagery in her work. Featuring more than a dozen Kahlo original paintings and works on paper. Moreover, the exhibition seeks to reimagine the artist’s famed garden and studio at Casa Azul, her lifelong home in Mexico City. Accompanying events invite visitors to learn about the artist’s life and enduring cultural influence through music, lectures, Frida al Fresco evenings, and hands-on art activities for kids. A blockbuster event! For more details click here.
Reopening May 23 is one of the city’s larger, little-known secrets: Governors Island. In 2003 plans were set in motion to transfer ownership of the 172-acre island to the City and U.S. Parks Service. In the meantime, the island has undergone a massive makeover to become one of the city’s premier recreational spots. It has an old Revolutionary War-era fort, beautiful waterside walks, plenty of shade trees, an installataion of modern sculpture which is only one aspect of a very active slate of arts and cultural programming.
William Beavers is a New York writer and author of the “New York City Culture Catalog” (Abrams/Alliance for the Arts). Contact email: email@example.com