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Manhattanhenge by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Editor’s note: Please accept my apologies that some editing and link work must be redone due to a wifi interruption and WordPress/Word glitch. It will be done tonight, but for now you can see the events and most of the needed information.

 

 

ALERT! Break out the “sacrificial” champagne. It’s time for Manhattanhenge! Come see the sun set through the grid of Manhattan as in this photo by astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both Thursday and Friday nights are good for this little wonder. Major cross streets like 42nd and 57th are especially good for viewing if you are on the East Side, in Queens or Brooklyn, or on the East River.

 

And now, looking to the week ahead, we have lots of other FREE stuff to do in nature in the city! Seining and cycling, paddling and gardening, birding and stargazing!

 

FRIDAY, MAY 30

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN

What can I say? It’s Critical Mass! Celebrate bicycles for their promise of a cleaner and safer city, and remind drivers through a great, peaceful, and friendly presence that the roads are public and to be shared.

Gather up at 7PM in Union Square. The ride concludes at about 10PM and the route is not determined.

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN

 

Come see Mars, Saturn, and the Summer Triangle with dedicated members of the Amateur Astronomers Association from dusk until 10PM at Carl Schurz Park esplanade in Manhattan (where East 86th Street meets the water). If you have a telescope, bring it!

Contact Rik Davis for more information at 646-873-0252.

 

BIKING AND WALKING, BROOKLYN

Be an assuring presence on two wheels for fellow New Yorkers making their way home with SafeWalk, a program of RightRides for Women’s Safety. The program provides the protection of companionship to all, because simply not walking alone is a strong defense from muggings, sexual assault, and hate crimes. All you and other volunteer team members need to do is bike to the location of a caller and walk that person to a destination within a 10-15 block radius. Right now coverage includes the hours of 11PM-2AM and the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and downtown Brooklyn.

Sign up as a volunteer and get an orientation by emailing safewalknyc@gmail.com. And if you need this service, don’t hesitate to call 866-977-9255 (walk)

 

SATURDAY, MAY 31

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

Roll out of bed and roll down the road (I always recommend biking) to the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn by 8AM to see a wide variety of upland and estuary birds. The Urban Park Rangers will teach you the basics…starting with the fact that no matter how good you get, birding will always involve an amount of early rising! But the rewards of open trails, fascinating creatures, and time to gather your thoughts is worth the initial bleariness. The center is at East 33rd Street and Avenue U. Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

BIKING, QUEENS

The increasingly interconnected greenways of New York City include some gorgeous vistas, like the western Long Island Sound. Get to know the Little Neck Bay section (and Fort Totten and Little Bay Park) and while you’re at it, join Transportation Alternatives in lobbying for full bike access across the East River’s bridges linking Queens to the Bronx!

Meet up is at 10AM, at the Cryders Lane entrance of Little Bay Park.

 

SOLAR OBSERVING, MANHATTAN

You’re “not the only one, staring at the sun”…At least you won’t be on Saturday morning from 10AM until noon in Central Park, at the model sailboat-filled Conservatory Water (enter at 5th Avenue and 72nd Street). The Amateur Astronomers Association would like you to safely (approved filters) look at the surface of the sun, and learn about this average yet precious star. And while you’re there, check out the red-tailed hawk, Pale Male!

If you’re bitten by the astronomy bug, join the friendly stargazers at their 1PM meeting: 1 PM, AA HQ (1010 Park Avenue, at 85th Street). Call Rik Davis for more information: 646-873-0252

  

BIKING, MANHATTAN 

Teach your child how to bike and take in old growth forests in a single outing by heading up to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center at 10AM. The event lasts until 1PM.

You’ll need to pre-register for this effective no-pedal instruction method (see this video to learn more) by calling 311 or visiting this page.

 

CHILDREN AND NATURE, MANHATTAN


We expect our kids to pick up languages fast, and to know how to make our newest gadgets work. Imagine what they could do as the family’s naturalists! Bring `em out to
Highbridge Park where kids 4-12 years old can learn about seeds (how they spread, why they are so important to plants and animals) on Saturday afternoon, from 2PM until 330PM. You must accompany your child to the Tower Terrace (enter the park at East 172 St. or East 174 St. and walk to the water) and register for the class with Linda Huntington by calling her at 212-795-1388 or emailing linda.huntington@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 

 

HIKE, MANHATTAN

 

Nature loves the edges of things. Life is most abundant at the shorelines (both above and under water) and the forest’s edge. The same goes for night and day – the action picks up at dusk and dawn, with crepuscular creatures busy at work. Enjoy the show as a hiker through Central Park’s North Woods. Bring a flashlight and meet at Belvedere Castle (midway through the park along 79th Street) at 730PM.

 

GARDENING AND WILDFLOWERS, STATEN ISLAND

Despite its pivotal role in Revolutionary War history, Conference House Park has fallen to insidious invaders! The mugwort isn’t coming, it’s already set in roots! Ditto for other invasive plants and trees that threaten indigenous trees and shrubs. In the process you’ll learn about the wildflowers now in bloom.

Come down for an afternoon of purposeful exercise at 2PM – water, gloves, and tools provided. Volunteers will gather at the visitors’ center at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Satterlee Street. To register and for directions by car, bike, train, and bus, contact Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021 or by emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 

TREE WALK, BRONX


Learn your trees with the experts at Van Cortlandt Park (
246th Street and Broadway). Gather at 11AM at the western entrance, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy an unhurried time in the greenery. Call 718-548-0912 for details.

 ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 1

 

BIRDING WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Prospect Park is rich in bird diversity, and the Brooklyn Bird Club want to take you right up to the “front doors” of their often-hidden nests! Pay a happy visit to our avian neighbors, many of whom now have young in their nests, by meeting up with the group at 8AM at the Audubon Center (Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance) for the two-hour walk. Call 718-287-3400 for more information.

 

BIRDING WALK, STATEN ISLAND

 

You can’t go wrong birding in a place named for one of the more beautiful species. Urban Park Rangers will teach you how to get started in birding while in none other than Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road Hylan Boulevard). Join them at 9AM, and call ahead with questions – 718-967-3542 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Come paddle with the Urban Park Rangers in the lagoon of New York City’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Kids eights years old and up and adults can explore and inhabit this lesser-known idyll starting at 10AM. The launch is at the NW corner of the Orchard Beach parking lot. To register, call 718-885-3467

. Registration is rolling until filled.
 
 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

MARINE BIOLOGY, BROOKLYN

 

See “What Lurks Beneath” the Gerritsen Creek with naturalists at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, Brooklyn (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). Meet up at 11AM, and start netting wet wildlife. For more information call 718-421-2021

 

BUTTERFLY WALK, MANHATTAN

Meet up at the 106th and 5th Ave. entrance into Central Park at 11AM for an exploration of local butterflies and moths. Call 212-860-1376 for more information.

FLOWER WALK, MANHATTAN

Fort Tryon is worth the visit for its amazing heather garden alone. But poke around for other delightful blooms in the Alpine Garden and other areas with expert horticulturalists. Not to mention the Hudson River views from on high! Meet at 1PM for the 90-minute walk and talk, starting at the Margaret Corbin Circle, Fort Tryon Park (Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue).

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Each Saturday and Sunday you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of Prospect Park. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

CAMPING 101, MANHATTAN

Learn the basics of camping in Manhattan, of all places! Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center at 2PM by entering the Inwood Hill Park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. For more information, call 212-304-2365.

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 3

 

While the rest of the nation is trying to discern what motivations lurk beneath the surface of politicians, you can be discovering what wondrous life is thriving in beneath the surface of the western Long Island Sound. Orchard Beach is apparently the place to see and be seined these days (okay, I’m sorry). Come to the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Pelham Bay Park at 3PM. For more information call 718-885-3466

.
 
 

 

 

ASTRONOMY, BROOKLYN

 

Saturn hasn’t been gentrified yet, though Mars night cave as quickly as Brooklyn one day. Just kidding…sorta. But come see both, and the Summer Triangle, with the generous Amateur Astronomy Association. They love sharing their joy in cosmic appreciation, so come along! Meet at 10PM at the war memorial on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, across from the Park Plaza Restaurant. For more information, email cadman@aaa.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yellow warbler at Ridgewood Reservoir. Photo by Steve Nanz.

 

 

 

The graveyard’s a fine and verdant place,

But none, I think, do there play ball or race.

 

…with apologies to Andrew Marvell            

 

 

 

by Erik Baard 

 

City Council District 30 in western Queens boasts some of the widest swaths of green in New York City, but much of that consists of cemeteries. The stony highlands of the terminal moraine make for bad farmland, so elders in preceding generations set those tracts aside for burials. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is now trying to build more ball fields and tracks in the area, but finds itself running into opposition from more restless living residents, including the candidates vying to represent the district in a special election on June 3.

 

The controversy has two key facets. First, the city has chosen a thriving wild space, Ridgewood Reservoir, for its new facilities. Secondly, the agency proposes to use potentially dangerous artificial turf on the new ball fields (and in parks throughout the city – more than 100 sites when installation is complete).

 

The Ridgewood Reservoir hasn’t provided water to residents for five decades and it became a possession of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 2004. Basins have grown over with seeded-on forests on the 50-acre site, and it helps sustain more than 120 bird species, including seven classified as endangered.

 

 

 

 

The $46 million NYC Parks plan would bulldoze 20 acres of land for sports while residents complain that similar facilities at nearby Highland Park are falling into disrepair. NYC Audubon has “strongly urged the Parks Department to commit to no net loss of forest cover.”

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council summed up the crisis this way:  

For not yet heeding the call to preserve this unique natural setting in the heart of New York City (but with the understanding that it is not too late for a change of course), we award the Parks Department plans to develop the Ridgewood Reservoir landscape with an Earth Day 2008 Bad Apple designation.

This video, produced by the invaluable Rob “CityBirder” Jett (and including photos by Steve Nanz – the yellow warbler above was taken by Nanz at the reservoir) provides an excellent overview of the imperiled reservoir wilderness area.

Artificial turf, a chief component of which is crumb rubber derived from used tires, poses potential health hazards to children and performs none of the services of plant life. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene acknowledges that the threat demands more testing, but encourages play on the plastic fields as an alternative to obesity. The tradeoff is a false one, or at very least an entirely unjust one to demand citizens accept.

 

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, a former Parks commissioner, has called on the agency to halt installation and allow independent testing of the artificial turf. CUNY psychology professor William Crain sent samples over to Rutgers University chemist Junfeng Zhang who found hazardous concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation standards. One sample contained highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene at more than eight times above levels deemed acceptable for soil.

 

 

The New York Environmental Law Project has also taken up the cause, providing a very informative summary page.

 

 

The reservoir and artificial turf plan was raised at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Historic Districts Council. Each candidate, seated in alphabetical order, commented in turn. Republican Anthony Como has said in the past that some of the land surrounding the reservoir might be built over for recreational use. At the forum he stated that in such a small habitat area it was impossible to eliminate sections of growth without affecting the ecosystem of the rest. Democrat Elizabeth Crowley (for whom I’m doing low-level volunteer work: get-out-the-vote phone banking, carrying literature as she pounds the pavement) often mentions her enjoyment of playing ball with her sons but in this case opposed any recreational development, calling the unofficial refuge an “enchanted land” for visitors. Democrat Charles Ober also railed against the plan, questioning the City’s logic in cutting down “5,000 trees” while asking volunteers to help plant a million trees. Republican Tom Ognibene who that evening announced himself as a skeptic of global warming, has argued before that the reservoir should be maintained as an emergency backup resource. At the forum he focused on the artificial turf aspect of community concerns. He conceded that he supported the introduction of the substitute based on the best information he had available at the time, but asserted that he now believes more testing is needed.

 

As I rode my bike home from the forum, I noodled through the broader implications of the Ridgewood Reservoir issue. It seems our city might be best off if future developments by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation adhered to three principles:

 

 

1) Preservation and restoration of wild spaces is first priority.

 

I don’t need to lecture NYC Parks about the value of green and blue areas. The Forever Wild program is fantastic, and I support transferring public wetlands into its administration. When I find myself disagreeing with NYC Parks so strongly over land use, it pains me.

 

Using hardy indigenous plant species (some are far less prone to invasive species competition than others) and adaptive xeriscaping, natural habitat areas can be created affordably.

 

 

2) New built spaces must incorporate athletic recreation.

 

New developments, especially those sited near residences, should be required to include places for active play and fitness. The declining sport of baseball is very land-intensive. Basketball, roller hockey, water polo, and volleyball are just a few space-efficient team sports – so much so that they can be placed on the rooftops of new stores.

 

3) We must foster a culture change toward outdoor, eco-recreation.

 

Wilderness areas aren’t exclusively for birders. Hiking, rowing, paddling, rock and tree climbing (in designated areas), and other activities can be as physically demanding as any typical weekend sport while also introducing young minds to the science and excitement of exploring nature. And we’ve seen that habitat can thrive in spaces like the reservoir that aren’t amenable to the uniform grass required by ball fields, leaving public servants in the utterly perverse position of destroying green, lush natural spaces so that artificial grass can be installed.

 

There is no park as grand as our harbor. Protected bike paths should be means of bringing green into neighborhoods by using green medians; they should offer access to habitat areas but not slice them up. Bike paths can weave neighborhoods together so that young people are exposed to new foods, cultures, and ways of living. Cycling is civics.

 

 

And so is voting. As the old punchline goes, “Is this a personal fight or can anyone join in?” A habitat like Ridgewood Reservoir is a boon for all New Yorkers, and this most egregious use of artificial turf will only embolden officials to spread it over public spaces in all five boroughs.  

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