Touring the Great Outdoors in NYC
For many tourists, especially first-timers, it’s the theaters, boutiques, restaurants, and museums of New York that are the city’s main draw. But if you also want to cover a bit more ground outdoors, John Rambow offers a few unusual, nature-oriented tours that will do the trick. Best of all, they’re all free.
For the Birds: Consider taking in some bird life — and I’m not talking pigeons and starlings, I’m talking something a lot more exotic. There are colonies of Quaker parrots here and there in the metro area, and they seem to be especially numerous in the greener portions of central Brooklyn. Just how they got here isn’t certain–one much-repeated story involves a shipment of Argentine parrots escaping from the crates at JFK airport at some point in the late ’60s. Whatever their
origins, it seems the parrots are here to stay: their shrieking, leaf-green bodies are easy to spot as they fly from tree to tree, building large, rather untidy nests. Brooklyn Parrots runs regular “safaris” to various parrot hot spots. The next one, held on Saturday, September 12, includes a visit to Brooklyn College and Green-wood Cemetery. The tours are usually held the first Saturday of each month, but check the Brooklyn Parrots blog for exact dates, and if you have a chance, bring along a little millet or finch food for the birds–all that flying around and looking cute consumes many calories.
Go for a Float: Walking around town, it’s very easy to forget that New York is on a group of islands. To get yourself reoriented, take to the water. The Downtown Boathouse
is a voluntary group set up to “provide access to the Hudson River for everyone.” The voluntary organization is most famous for its quickie 20-minute kayak paddles, for which no experience is required, but the Boathouse also organizes three-hour tours for more experienced paddlers — these take you either across the river to Hoboken, New Jersey, or north to a dock at 125th Street.
Walk it Out: Finally, if you want to get a feel for parts of the city that aren’t covered in guidebooks, check out Take a Walk New York, a city-sponsored series of treks through areas that are far from tourist haunts–trips in the past have visited forts that predate the American Revolution, out-of-control Christmas-light displays, and Victorian neighborhoods in Yonkers, just north of the city limits.
Their last trip, held on August 8, covered ground very exotic to most New Yorkers: Bayonne and Union City, both part of New Jersey’s so-called Gold Coast. Check here for upcoming schedules.
Photos: Parrot photo, Steve Baldwin, Brooklyn Parrots; Kayak photo, Charlie O’Donnell, The Downtown Boathouse
- Nat Geo Expeditions