No secret here -- I can wax poetic about city life and I'm particularly eager to talk about nature in my fair city. Sure, those big national parks are great but where else can you see endangered bird species AND catch a Broadway play all in one day?
If I'm happy to talk about New York City's nature in general, I'm very thrilled to narrow it down to favorite spots in my neck of the woods -- Queens.
This fact was once again brought into the forefront when talking to my friend Suzanne who recently moved back to her home borough. In the efforts to show her that Queens life is quite rich, mutual friend Annette coined the above headline phrase. Indeed, Queens does have good stuff and everyone else is just catching up to it! As one of the most diverse counties in the country, the food options have been mindblowing long before "foodie nation" discovered them, and now Queens is coming into its own in terms of music, art and other cultural interests.
As the geographical giant of New York City's five boroughs (just a hair over 112 square miles), Queens nature is just as rich. Forest meets ocean, glacial ponds meet salt marshes, and everything in between. Even eastern-central areas were once part of the Hempstead Plains, one of the few natural grasslands east of the Allegheny Mountains.
Allow me to share my favorite green spaces (in no particular order) of my favorite place:
1. Arverne -- Perhaps 21 years growing up in the Midwest sealed it, but I just can't get enough of salt air, let alone salt water. When I need the beach, there's no better place than Arverne and its Piping Plover Nesting Area. On these beach dunes nest this little sprite of an endangered shorebird along with the equally endangered (but far more raucous) Least Tern. Combine this scene with other shorebirds like American Oystercatchers, plus Horseshoe Crabs, sand dunes, native dune plants and associated beautiful shore insects like dragonflies and Monarch Butterflies, and heaven is within reach, just as the A train rumbles by.
2. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge -- part of the larger Gateway National Recreation Area, Jamaica Bay holds a special spot in my heart. It's right here that we started birding many years ago soon after moving to Queens. Words are not enough to describe these 9,155 acres -- that's how famous they are. Woodland, salt marsh, sandy shores, brackish ponds and lakes, meadows all combine to form an incredible habitat for all. On any given day, you'll see folks searching for species in avian, botanical, entomological, marine, mammalian, reptilian and amphibian forms.
3. Queens County Farm Museum -- maybe not a nature preserve, the Farm is still a very important place to visit in order to appreciate early Queens life down on the farm. Next to a looming high-rise apartment complex, the space is even more poignant, a juxtaposition of old and current life. Enjoy (and feed!) the goats, chickens and geese, and be sure to walk along the vegetable rows and grape vines. Plus take a wander out to the perimeter wooded areas, part of which is old growth forest.
4. Forest Park -- its main drive, designed by Frederick Olmsted, winds through the Park's eastern side where one can get lost -- almost really lost -- along the dense woodland trails. Full of old growth forest, the park also boasts high points -- glacial deposits forming the Harbor Hill moraine -- and deep, low depressions creating seasonal kettle ponds.
Truth be told, I'm embarrassed -- Forest Park is one of my very local spots but I've explored so little, despite the great wilderness it offers. Here's a promise, dear reader(s) -- I shall explore more and report back.
5. Queens Botanical Garden -- you didn't think I'd leave off one of my favorite places in the world, did you?! One might consider the end of the workday to be the cue to head home, but I tend to linger and enjoy.
And why not? This 39 acre -- as we fondly say -- urban oasis is teeming with natural life even in the frenetic setting of its Flushing neighborhood. Over 50 bird species have been spotted, plus QBG boasts stunning plants, charming squirrels, lounging Italian Wall Lizards, and other wildlife.
Yes, we do have good stuff here in Queens. Come and enjoy.