Nature’s Candy

Escape the Asphalt Jungle into New York City’s Boondocks

• THE GATE AWAY Floyd Bennett Field is just one component of the 26,000-acre Gateway National Recreation Area (718-338-3799), one of the first two urban national parks (the other is Golden Gate Park in San Francisco), with access to shoreline all over Jamaica Bay, the Rockaways, and New York Harbor, including sections in Staten Island and New Jersey. More than 150 species of birds stop by on their trek along the 10,000-mile Atlantic Flyway, making Gateway a world-class birding destination—and granting all of us jaded city slickers imported birds to go along with our imported everything else. The September flurry of monarch butterflies at this park, along with Gateway's Breezy Point Tip, Fort Tilden, and Jacob Riis Park (as well as Great Kills Park on Staten Island), are all must-sees, as are the wild beaches at these last four parks.

• STATEN ISLAND SLOP Topping it all off is the Staten Island Bluebelt (718-390-8000), a loosely linked network of wetlands and watery woodlands that isn't as integrated as the Greenbelt, but worth a dozen or more day trips. The fact that you sometimes have to wander through suburban yards and between houses to get from one park to another only makes it more of a Huck Finn odyssey. Blue Heron Park (800-201-PARK) and Wolfe's Pond Park (718-984-8266), adjacent to one another and spotted with idyllic freshwater ponds, glistening swamps, and forests, are sensible places to start your Bluebelt foray.

Jamaica Bay: paradise regained
Photograph by Hiroyuki Ito
Jamaica Bay: paradise regained

This is just the beginning. Visit the New York City Parks Department's Web site or search the Green Apple Map for the big picture. Or better yet, dig through the 2000-plus volumes at the Parks Library (Central Park Arsenal, 64th and Fifth Ave, room 240, 360-8240).

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