This is not your average walk in a park
The veteran of more than 20 long-distance wilderness hikes, Liz Thomas knows how to navigate the most remote, wild places on earth. She set the record for the fastest female thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, and she’s gone on to make a living as a trail expert, conservation advocate, and author.
Now, she’s a leader of city thru-hiking, or what Outside magazine recently described as “like the Appalachian Trail, but with more stoplights.” She’s trekked through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Denver … now she’s taking on her biggest challenge yet: New York City.
Starting this week, Thomas will hike a route connecting more than a hundred New York playgrounds built by The Trust for Public Land. She plans to walk 200 miles through all five boroughs, meeting with neighbors, teachers, and park users all along the way.
“Giving kids access to nature and finding nature even within a city are two things that I care a lot about. It’s my daily and weekly trips to my local city and county parks that made me the outdoorsperson I am today—not (as one may think) the family trips to Yosemite,” Thomas says.
We’ll be updating this post with dispatches from Liz’s journey. Stay tuned!
P.S. 32 – The Gifford School, Staten Island, NY
Liz says:“Aaand … I’m off! The start of my NYC Urban thru hike of the five boroughs begins! 175 miles, 9 days, 101 parks that have been de-asphalted! I’m super stoked to partner with The Trust for Public Land to connect on foot these public parks they’ve created. Nothing like seeing like asphalt getting torn up and turned into trees, grass, and dirt and finding pockets of nature in the city!
I started in Staten Island at a playground that was still under construction. The schoolyard was asphalt. No trees or turf or basketball courts, but all of those were coming. I got to see the playground design the kids created and voted on what all those bulldozers and backhoes were working to create. It made it all that more powerful for me to walk to the next playgrounds and see what that asphalt becomes: a beautiful and functional place for kids and families and community members to connect.”
Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens
Liz says: “During the school day, it’s been fun to see kids playing in the schoolyards created by The Trust for Public Land. In the Bronx, I chatted with a kid who told me about how much he enjoys playing ball. In Harlem, I talked with an after-school program director who was teaching kids how to grow vegetables in the schoolyard garden.”
“It’s also been fun to be at the playgrounds after school is out when they turn into neighborhood public playgrounds and parks. While I’ve walked through many large, beautiful parks in NYC, sometimes there are long stretches for a few miles where there aren’t any big parks and sometimes the big parks don’t attract many people, especially after work hours.
But I saw people in Trust for Public Land playgrounds at 6:45 am on a Saturday and another schoolyard playground was packed with people at 5:30 pm on a Thursday. Having a local place to get together with friends and play is so important. The proximity to the neighborhood and putting the parks where the people are — especially where the kids have to go anyway for school — is what makes these parks such an amazing resource.”
As I hike through Southeastern Queens, covering the distance from JFK airport to LaGuardia airport—and back!—I realize the scope of this borough. It’s large and diverse, and there’s no one word that can describe my 3.5 miles hiking here.
Some sections have the most parks and trail access I could imagine in an urban area. Other neighborhoods required miles and miles of hiking to get to a public park. It’s here that I appreciate The Trust for Public Land’s NYC Playground Program the most. It’s hard to make new parks in an area this dense and already developed. But the NYC Playground Program takes land that is already public and makes it greener—then opens it up not just to students, but to the entire community.
Every playground I’ve visited on the hike is alive with community—people come after school is out … kids, parents, older community members. In neighborhoods that are under-served by public parks, The Trust for Public Land is filling the community’s need for a gathering place to play outdoors.
Now I’m heading into Brooklyn, and the days are shifting from hot and sweaty hiking to rain. Looking forward to what this borough will show me about life in New York, and to the playgrounds I will find here!
Done! NYC Urban Thru-Hike connecting 100 park+playgrounds is complete! 200 miles and 9 days later, I’ve visited neighborhoods in all five boroughs and see New York as few see it.
I’m processing everything that I’ve seen and how powerful it was to see parking lots turned into parks and people who have little access to green space getting to play and come together in community. There’s no one word to describe the NYC hike, but I think wherever I went, the power of local parks to make everyone’s life better was so evident.
Many thanks to The Trust for Public Land for having the vision and follow-through to create this park system at such a massive scale. If you felt inspired by my hike or what you saw at these parks or just want to see some statistics and studies on why these playground parks are so important, visit the New York City Playgrounds page. For now, I’m going to have a rest day and reflect on all I’ve seen.
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