With the bright lights of Times Square, some of the greatest museums in the world and the high-end shopping along Madison Avenue, it is easy to forget that New York City is also home to a rich array of wildlife. Nestled in nature preserves and parks throughout the city, these natural oases provide an excellent getaway for New Yorkers and tourists alike looking for an off-the-beaten-path way to enjoy New York City. Here are five natural spots, accessible by public transportation, that offer a new way to explore New York’s five boroughs.
Crotona Nature Center
Crotona Park, located in the Bronx and accessible via the Bx11 and Bx17, is well known among local naturalists for its 28 species of trees and 3.3-acre lake, which is home to turtles, duck, fish and other wildlife. Located along the eastern side of Indian Lake in the Bronx, the Crotona Nature Center can help visitors make the most of their natural getaway and offers outdoor activities for visitors of all ages, including nature walks, fish and bird identification and programs for schools and groups.
Salt Marsh Nature Center
Located on the B33 bus line, the Salt Marsh Nature Center is a bird lover’s paradise featuring a wide variety of sandpipers, herons, egrets, red-winged blackbirds, marsh hawks as well as ducks and geese. The marshlands also houses an impressive range of sport fish and serves as a nursery for shrimp and crabs. While exploring the marshlands is an adventure all on its own, in the Nature Center, urban park rangers are on hand to offer a variety of lessons on ecology, botany and ornithology and are glad to help explain to visitors the impressive and unique salt marsh eco-system or provide a map of nearby trails.
Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
Even seasoned New Yorkers may be surprised by the rich diversity of wildlife and nature available in the city’s most famous park. The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, located in the heart of Central Park and accessible from a wide variety of public transportation, offers a range of programming for visitors of all ages to help them connect to nature and learn more about the park’s impressive 21,500 trees, wide range of plant species and other animals that call the park home. For city anglers, the Discovery Center also holds a catch-and-release program, giving New Yorkers an environmentally friendly way to try their hand at fishing in Central Park’s lake.
Blue Heron Park
A combination of the Staten Island ferry and the S78 bus, will bring visitors to Blue Heron Park, a hidden gem among the city’s natural areas. Home to the birds that give the park its name, the rustic area gives visitors a chance to see these amazing birds, which can reach heights of up to four feet tall, while they dip for fish or munch on frogs in the ponds and marsh. Once a wasteland and dumping ground for cars, the reclaimed space also offers a range of trails, an abundance of wildflowers and a spread of educational activities to help discover the area’s rich natural diversity.
Alley Pond Park
The second largest park in Queens, Alley Pond Park is located on a glacier-formed moraine, a ridge of sand and rock formed over 15,000 years ago. Today, boulders and ponds left behind by the glacial age still dot the landscape of Alley Pond. The park is also a unique eco-system that offers both fresh- and salt-water environments, tidal flats, meadows and forests, all of which offer a wide diversity of species within the park and make the area a birdwatcher’s dream. Accessible by the Q46 bus, the Alley Pond Adventure Center, located within the park, can help you make the most of your visit.
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Tamar Auber is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.