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New York City has over 28,000 acres (110 km2) of municipal parkland and 14 miles (23 km) of public beaches. This parkland is augmented by thousands of acres of Gateway National Recreation Area, part of the National Park system, that lie within city boundaries. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the only wildlife refuge in the National Park System, alone is over 9,000 acres (36 km2) of marsh islands and water taking up most of Jamaica Bay.


Manhattan's Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, is the most visited city park in the United States with 30 million visitors each year. While much of the park looks natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. It contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds, extensive walking tracks, bridle paths, two ice-skating rinks one of which is a swimming pool in July and August, the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a large area of natural woods, a 106-acre (43 ha) billion gallon reservoir with an encircling running track, and an outdoor amphitheater called the Delacorte Theater which hosts the "Shakespeare in the Park" summer festivals. Indoor attractions include Belvedere Castle with its nature center, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, and the historic Carousel. In addition there are numerous major and minor grassy areas, some of which are used for informal or team sports, some are set aside as quiet areas, and there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children.

The park has its own wildlife and serves as an oasis for migrating birds, especially in the fall and the spring, making it a significant attraction for bird watchers; 200 species of birds are regularly seen. The 6 miles (10 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, bicyclists and inline skaters, especially on weekends, and in the evenings after 7:00 p.m., when automobile traffic is banned.


Prospect Park in Brooklyn, also designed by Olmsted and Vaux, has a 90-acre (360,000 m2) meadow. Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens, the city's third largest, was the setting for the 1939 World's Fair and 1964 World's Fair. Over a fifth of the Bronx's area, 7,000 acres (28 km2), is given over to open space and parks, including Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens.