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Best nature spots for kids in New York City

Becky Wang and Liang Lin show their son Eason Lin cherry blossoms in Prospect Park. Credit: Miles Dixon, Metro Becky Wang and Liang Lin show their son Eason Lin cherry blossoms in Prospect Park. Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

When it comes to kids and nature, most U.S. parents agree: Children should be spending more time outdoors.

According to a recent survey by the Nature Conservancy and Disney, 82 percent of parents across the country view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development. That’s second only to reading as a priority.

“I think parents appreciate what science tells us – that when kids gets outside, they’re happier, they’re healthier, they’re more creative, and they’re better able to manage the stress in their life,” said Bill Ulfelder, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York.


The survey also found that 65 percent of parents see it as a “very serious” problem that kids are not spending more time outdoors. While preschoolers spend 12 hours a week outside, that drops to fewer than seven hours for kids 16 and older, the poll found.

Different factors can contribute to this downward trend, such as busy schedules and the availability of technology, but parents have the power to change it, Ulfelder said.

“Parents are the No. 1 facilitator of kids getting outside,” he said. “When kids want to spend more time outdoors, they’re looking to their parents more than other family members or even friends as the key to helping them get outside and have a really good time.”

And while technology may be one of the reasons kids prefer to stay indoors on a Saturday morning, Ulfelder said technology can help parents figure out fun things to do outside, or help answer questions that kids might have about nature.

So where can New York City parents take their kids?

Fortunately, the five boroughs are brimming with places to explore nature.According to the Department of City Planning, more than a quarter of the city’s lot area is occupied by public parks, playgrounds, nature preserves and other open spaces.

Here is a look at the five best places to get kids out into nature without leaving the city:

Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
At 2,772 acres, Pelham Bay Park is New York City’s largest park. Located in the northeast corner of the Bronx, the park features 13 miles of coastline and offers an array of outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, biking and more. It is also home to wildlife such as owls, hawks, harbor seals and white-tailed deer.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens
Part of Gateway National Recreation Area, the refuge is known around the world as a prime spot for birding. According to the city’s parks department, this wetland estuary hosts more than 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies and 100 species of finfish.

Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn
Grab your tent and sleeping bags for a night under the stars. This former airfield in southeast Brooklyn is now a public campground that also offers fishing, hiking and biking. Visit www.nps.gov to make reservations.

North Woods in Central Park, Manhattan
Located in the northwest corner of Central Park, North Woods is one of the quietest areas of the park. According to the Central Park Conservancy, North Woods is designed to mimic a natural woodland and features rustic trails, streams and waterfalls.

Greenbelt Conservancy, Staten Island
The Staten Island Greenbelt is comprised of 2,800 acres of natural areas and parkland. It features forests, meadows, wetlands, lakes, ponds and streams. Recreational activities at the Greenbelt include hiking, fishing, golf, archery and more.

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