Walking in a Winter Wonderland in New York City Parks

reprinted from the New York Times

 
URBAN ATHLETE 

By KEITH MULVIHILL

JUST because temperatures have dropped doesn’t mean outdoor efforts to elevate your heart rate should take a nose dive, too. New York City offers many walking trails and paths through scenic, wooded parks and along breathtaking waterways

 

Jim Simpson for The New York Times

Hikers traversing a rocky slope along the 1.5-mile, moderately difficult John Muir Trail during a ranger-led fitness hike.“Winter is a great time to get out and see the parks in a new way once the trees have shed all of their leaves,” said Sarah Aucoin, director of theUrban Park Rangers program, which offers guided hikes and walks in the city’s park all year. “You can see wildlife and get your heart pumping at the same time.”

If you struggle to stay active in the winter, walking may inspire you to get outdoors. Dr. Susan Kansagra, deputy commissioner for the division of health promotion and disease prevention at the New York City health department, said that regular walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke,diabetesosteoporosis, and colon and breast cancer. And, she added, “Regular physical exercise like walking has proven mental health benefits, including reducing depression and reducing anxiety and stress.”

How much walking is enough? The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or roughly five 30-minute brisk walks.

Christine Yost, 61, who lives on the Upper West Side and belongs to the Shorewalkers group, offered advice on preparing for a winter outing: Wear wool socks, well-insulated shoes or boots, and layers of clothing so you can peel off items and stuff them into a backpack if you get too warm. “In some ways, wintertime walks can be better than other times of the year because there are less people on the paths,” she said.

What are some of her more memorable walks?

“Shorewalkers has led walks in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, to see the holiday decorations; that one is fun,” she said. So was a daylong outing through four cemeteries in Queens: “We saw all kinds of beautiful sculptures, and the views were wonderful.”

calendar of weekly walks is at shorewalkers.org.

Here is a borough-by-borough sampling of other winter walks, with some help from Ms. Aucoin of the Urban Park Rangers:

THE BRONX

Kazimiroff Nature Trail, Pelham Bay Park

This trail is so unexpected,” Ms. Aucoin said. “There is a huge variety of ecosystems for such a small area: meadow, shrub land, forest, salt marsh and a rocky coastal area.” The trail has two connecting loops (totaling about 2.5 miles) through Hunter Island. Urban Park Rangers have spotted wintering owls here, including barred and great horned owls.

BROOKLYN

Salt Marsh Nature Trail, Marine Park

Marine Park recently underwent a major ecosystem restoration: Today, visitors can stroll a 0.8-mile loop past revitalized marshes and shrubby meadows planted with native plants. “In the winter you can see a great variety of water birds here,” Ms. Aucoin said. Keep an eye out for American coots, black ducks, pied-billed grebes and red-breasted mergansers, among others. It’s a short enough loop to justify a second trip around.

MANHATTAN

Blue Trail, Inwood Hill Park

The Blue Trail offers a two-mile scenic walk on the wild side. “The forest is dotted with amazing tulip trees,” Ms. Aucoin said. “They are typically the largest, straightest tree in the forest.” As the trail rises, walkers are treated to a dazzling view of the Hudson River and the Palisades of New Jersey.

QUEENS

White Trail, Alley Pond Park

It takes about a half-hour to walk this trail (about 0.7 miles) outlining the park perimeter. “It’s a hilly trail with some nice ups and downs,” Ms. Aucoin said. And you can witness the remnants of long-ago glacial activity: The trail lies on the terminal moraine, which is the visible edge of rocky debris left behind from melted glaciers. Ms. Aucoin also noted that walkers may spot raccoons or wintering owls.

STATEN ISLAND

Red Trail, Greenbelt

This four-mile loop offers a great workout in a setting that resembles upstate New York. “The woods are full of maples, beeches, oaks, and there are even flowing streams,” Ms. Aucoin said. You can add to the adventure by taking an extension trail that leads toHistoric Richmond Town.

A version of this article appears in print on December 20, 2013, on page C32 of the New York edition with the headline: Hiking in a Winter Wonderland.

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