In previous years, the Queens Jewish Link has kept its Chol HaMoed Guide to Parks within the borders of Queens. In this age of social media fame, many of us want to share photos and videos at the newest attractions to say that we were the first among our friends to have been there. Here are a few post-millennial parks that are worth a visit in the coming days. Full disclosure: I work for the Parks Department during the day.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Formerly a waterfront of shipping terminals, in the past decade the stretch of the East River between the Brooklyn Bridge and Atlantic Avenue has been subject to a postmodern style landscape transformation. Aside from its million-dollar views of the Financial District, the park offers a diverse variety of naturalistic and post-industrial terrains. Cramming as many activities as possible into one park, this 85-acre coastal strip includes grassy fields, a non-swimming beach, sports courts, and a ferry connection to Governors Island. As a father of two children, my fascination with this park is its four themed playgrounds: Swing Valley, Slide Mountain, Sandbox Village, and a Water Lab. For the last one, dress your child in a bathing suit. When my wife shops for furniture at the IKEA in Red Hook, this park is a ten-minute ride from the Swedish furniture retailer.
Back in early June, a new park opened on the Williamsburg waterfront on the site of the former Domino Sugar refinery. Privately owned and operated, it is part of a larger redevelopment of the post-industrial waterfront into luxury residences, offices, and parks. As with Brooklyn Bridge Park, this new green space is divided into theme zones for different age groups and types of recreational activities. At its northern end is an elevated walkway and preserved cranes that make for ideal photo backdrops. In the middle is a playground that evokes the machinery of the sugar refinery, providing an interpretive experience for children. Beyond the park, the hipster side of Williamsburg is filled with legal graffiti, street art, and elaborate advertising murals that have lent themselves to walking tours. A few blocks to the south is the chasidic section of Williamsburg, where you can do kosher shopping and buy religious literature in Yiddish and Hebrew.
Bush Terminal Park
The Costco at Sunset Park can be a crowded experience, with its generous halal and kosher sections designed for the borough’s two growing religions. While my wife shops these monstrously huge and seemingly endless aisles, I take my children to Bush Terminal Park. Formerly a polluted waterfront parcel, it opened as a park in 2014. Sandwiched between actively used warehouses and freight railroad tracks, the park’s entrance on 43rd Street and 1st Avenue is hard to find, and the park does not have a playground. But it has unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty and a grassy hill to take in the harbor breeze. Bring a Frisbee or a kite.
If anyone would have predicted a year ago that there will be more rides coming to Coney Island, I would have responded, “Keep dreaming.” Condos and retail chains, but actual roller coasters? No way! This past summer, I took my children to Coney Island three times out of sheer disbelief that there was so much to do along the Boardwalk. The New York Aquarium is nearly rebuilt after being walloped by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. Its new shark exhibit has become its flagship attraction, contained inside a spiral building whose exterior wall resembles the scales of a fish. In the shadow of the Wonder Wheel, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is open through October 31. I manage my daughter’s desire to never leave the park by handing her four tickets. She chooses the rides and once the tickets run out, she understands that we cannot go on any more rides. Next to Deno’s is Luna Park, brought back to the map for the first time since 1944 when the original Luna Park burned down. Here, too, there are kiddie rides, arcades, and roller coasters.
Aviator Sports and Events Center
At the southern tip of Flatbush Avenue is Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport that is part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Park insiders know of this site as the only legal campground inside the city’s parks. Others know about Dead Horse Bay, built on 19th century landfill, where rocks and seashells are mixed with bottle fragments from that time period. There’s also a mini-golf course and visitors’ center with early aviation history. The Aviator Center is also inside this park, used for a variety of sports including hockey. So if winter cannot come soon enough for you, if this Chol HaMoed forecast is as rainy as nearly half of this past summer, lace up your skates and take to the ice for a change.
Aside from its famous zoo, botanical garden, and major league baseball team, there are a few recent additions to the Boogie Down Borough that provide the views, nature, and let off energy.
The oldest bridge connecting to Manhattan is not the Brooklyn Bridge. Completed 35 years before the downtown tourist landmark, this pedestrian crossing above the Harlem River once carried the city’s drinking water over the Harlem River valley. Its repetitive arches evoke the aqueducts of the Roman Empire, and one can imagine what the valley below looked like before highways and railroads used it as a route. The walkway is covered in brick with engraved medallions depicting the history of High Bridge. In the 1970s, when the Bronx experienced urban decay and crime, the walkway was closed to the public. It reopened amid celebration in 2015, serving as a scenic and less-crowded alternative to the Brooklyn Bridge and High Line. The Bronx entrance is near University Avenue and West 170th Street, and the Manhattan entrance is near Amsterdam Avenue and West 172nd Street. On that side, the former reservoir that was part of the original city aqueduct was repurposed as an outdoor pool in the 1930s.
Barretto Point Park
In 2006, a vacant 11-acre waterfront lot surrounded by warehouses and overlooking three restricted islands was dedicated as a park. It has a lawn, non-swimming beach, playground, pier, and signs that explain two of the islands in view. North Brother Island functioned until 1963 as a quarantine hospital but today is a bird sanctuary with plants enveloping the haunting hospital ruins. South Brother Island is a former retreat of early Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert. There are no signs explaining Rikers Island, but if you’ve been following the news, the likelihood of this prison closing is becoming closer to reality. Ponder on the future uses of this 413-acre parcel of land. The naturalistic landscape of the park offers hints as to how the South Bronx shoreline appeared before the arrival of industry and urbanization.
Mill Pond Park
Beneath the elevated structure of the Major Deegan Expressway, south of Yankee Stadium, used to be the Bronx Terminal Market, a set of wholesale warehouses. Redeveloped as a shopping center in 2009, it includes a waterfront park that is a more modest version of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Gantry Plaza State Park. It has the playground, lawn, and historic signs. Again, while the wife shops, daddy can spend a couple of hours here with the children. But it may be better to hold this one until next year, when the Bronx Children’s Museum will arrive at its new home inside this park.
North of Here
Van der Donck Park, Yonkers
Imagine an urban waterway covered up in favor of a parking lot. Instead of boosting the economy of Yonkers, it erased the city’s historic identity. In 2012, the Saw Mill River was again exposed to daylight and the former parking lot became a waterfront park in the city center. Next to this park is Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, a colonial mansion that offers an alternative history of the American Revolution. It was here on Nov. 28, 1776, that over 200 Loyalist New Yorkers signed a “Declaration of Dependence,” pledging their loyalty to King George III. The war ended in 1783 and most of the loyalists, including mansion owner Frederick Philipse III, fled either to the motherland or Canada.
Tappan Zee Bridge
(named after Mario M. Cuomo)
Not really a park, but this new bridge offers a three-mile walkway connecting Tarrytown to Nyack, a short distance from Monsey. The new bridge replaced the original 1955 bridge that had long suffered from deterioration. Looking north, one can see Hook Mountain and Stony Point, and consider potential places to take a hike with views of the state’s defining waterway. Although the new bridge was officially named after former Gov. Mario Cuomo, many local residents refuse to use this name, preferring the older one that honors the Native and Dutch history of the area.
Over The Hudson
Here’s another walkway with dramatic views of the Hudson River that is less than two hours north of Queens and an hour from Monsey. Formerly a freight railroad trestle, it was abandoned in 1974 following a track fire. It stood as a rusting skeleton from an earlier industrial boom. In 2009, it was repurposed as a pedestrian walkway, at 6,768 feet the longest in the world. The wind off the Hudson River and mountain scenery also includes fall foliage. Walk with ease and don’t look back. This bridge is for people, not cars.
West of Here
Paterson Great Falls
National Historical Park
If your Chol HaMoed involves northern New Jersey, this region has its own National Parks site since 2009. In the deeply-urbanized Paterson, the Passaic River flows through a ravine that has the 77-foot Great Falls. American Revolutionary Alexander Hamilton recognized the industrial potential of this cascade to make the textile mills spin. In his words, Paterson would be the nation’s first “planned industrial city.” For this reason, this post-millennial park includes traces of mill foundations and canals that followed the river near the waterfall.
Pier C Park, Hoboken
Here’s a little artificial island across the river from downtown Manhattan containing dense greenery, a playground, and lengthy slides, connected to Hoboken by a winding wooden bridge. When there is no land remaining for new parks, they are built on top of water. Designed by the architect of Brooklyn Bridge Park, from this island one can see two future park on the Manhattan side that are under construction: the artificial island at Pier 55 that costs $250 million to build, funded entirely by private donors. Next to it is Gansevoort Peninsula, a former sanitation truck parking lot that is being transformed into a 5.65-acre park connected to Hudson River Park.
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria
Located on the same block as the active Kaufman Studios, this museum is filled with film technology artifacts going back more than a century. Aside from a century of film technology, the museum is popular for its ongoing Jim Henson exhibit that includes props used for the Muppets and Sesame Street.
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Located inside a building designed for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, its top attraction is the Panorama of NYC, the largest architectural model in the world. If you have relatives coming in from out of town and there is no time to take them on a tour of the five boroughs, the Panorama will suffice. I’ve done this for my family members. Instead of sitting in traffic to visit Manhattan, your Panorama visit should be followed up with a group photo with the country’s largest globe, the unofficial symbol of our borough. This year’s exhibit is a retrospective of Rube Goldberg, whose comic illustrations of unusual inventions entertained generations of children through his 72-year career. On display through Feb. 9, 2020.
Bound by Park Lane South, Park Lane, Union Turnpike, Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
Forest Park sits atop the terminal moraine, a ridge of heavily wooded hills sculpted during the last ice age that spans the length of Long Island. Its main thoroughfare, Forest Park Drive, was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and features a design similar to Central Park and Prospect Park. The third largest park in Queens, it includes a historic carousel, greenhouse, band shell, golf course, sports fields, and monuments. Near Woodhaven Boulevard is Strack Pond and closer to Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue is a pine grove. Were it not for the noise of Jackie Robinson Parkway, which runs through the park, the forested scene couldn’t feel more distant from being in the city.
Alley Pond Park
Bound by Little Neck Bay, Long Island Expressway, Union Turnpike, between Springfield Boulevard, Douglaston Parkway
Located in a deep ravine in eastern Queens, this park offers geological variety including freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows, and forests, an ecosystem with plenty of birds and animals on view. The Alley Pond Environmental Center on Northern Boulevard offers hand-on displays and hiking trails with signs that explain the park’s ecology. Among the park’s trees, the most distinguished is the 133-foot Queens Giant, a tulip tree that may be the tallest and the oldest living organism in the city. It is estimated to be between 350 and 450 years of age.
Sixth floor of Queens Gymnasia
60-05 Woodhaven Boulevard
Call Aron Aronov at 718-896-8999
Many of our readers either know Bukharian Jews as neighbors or happen to be themselves Bukharian, so why does there need to be a museum? For historian Aron Aronov, it is a place to tell the stories of families through artifacts collected over the course of a quarter century, resulting in the narrative of a community. What began as a collection in his basement is now in a school where the next generation of leaders in this community learns about their heritage. Numerous diplomats, politicians, philanthropists, and regular people have been here. As a historian, I find Aronov’s do-it-yourself museum an inspiration and so do many larger museums, which often borrow his artifacts for their exhibits on Central Asian Jews.
New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street, Corona
What began as an exhibit for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair has since expanded in 1971, 1986, and 2004, each time reopening with new offerings such as a planetarium, indoor play area for infants, art exhibition space, restored Atlas and Titan rockets, and the Science Playground with mini-golf, the largest playground of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Hands-on, interactive, energetic, and educational, the Hall of Science demonstrates an engaging approach towards the interplay of nature and technology in resolving the mysteries of the universe. There are Lego sculptures on exhibit through Jan. 26, 2020 which will inspire children to ask their parents for more playing pieces at home. Be sure to remind them of the responsibility of cleaning up!
34-56 107th Street, Corona
This museum defines the term “neighborhood celebrity.” From 1943 until his death in 1971, this townhouse was home to the world’s leading jazz musician, one who gave free lessons and bought ice cream for local children. The inside is nearly untouched from the day of his death. A guide pushes a button and Satchmo’s voice gives you tidbits on his life along with a few tunes from his cornet. It’s as if he never left the place.
73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Floral Park
Sure, our borough has plenty of green rooftops, community gardens, backyard plots and windowsill spices, but the largest and last true farm in the borough is in Floral Park, taking up 47 acres. In operation since 1697, this farm has livestock, heavy farm machinery, planting fields, and a vineyard. Events on its calendar include a children’s carnival, antique motor show, and a Native American pow-wow.
By Sergey Kadinsky