Days of Adventure (Vol. 1)
We are ecstatic to announce a new partnership with The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit with an outpost in New York City. As part of our Days of Adventure: NYC & Beyond Series, each month, we'll bring you a new article by Rob of the Nature Conservancy that highlights the nature of NYC specifically through the lens of accessibility to the outdoors for us New Yorkers. If these stories inspire you to adventure in or near NYC share with the tag #daysofadventure!
Days of Adventure (Vol. 1): The Nature of New York City
There are forests of solitude inside this jungle; liberation from the monoliths of midtown. Within this sea of people, there’s a world of adventure. That’s what goes through my mind as I pick my way through the lesser-known trails of Central Park’s North woods, eventually running up a slippery slab of rock that rises to the foot of the park’s oldest manmade structure – the 200-year-old Blockhouse.
Scrambling up that slab – which I like to pretend is the Big Apple’s best answer to climbing the towering Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado – always helps me escape the ever-busy, “go, go, go” vibe and electricity that pulses through the avenues and airwaves of this metropolis. But, once I reach the crest of the rock face and turn around to see what I’ve climbed, I notice the barren late-autumn trees now fail to block the view of the mid-rise apartment buildings that roll forever to the north. The blur of yellow cabs racing across 110th street add to the urban mix. The distant whir of sirens and horns seems to grow louder, drowning out the sound of nature’s silence.
Then a bird – perhaps a straggler from the winter migration – chirps and flutters among the branches above me to bring me right back to nature. I soak it in, carry on into the woods, and find myself lost once again on the empty trails; my mind now miles away from the steady stream of holiday tourists and museum-goers that fill the sidewalks flanking this scene of serenity. “Such beautiful diversity, and I’m in the heart of it all,” I think to myself.
The afternoon brings me back outdoors about two miles from where I did my morning trail running and rock scrambling. I’m still in Central Park, but now near the southern boundary where there’s an abundance of ball fields and boulders — the latter is what has my attention. I step out of my boots and into cramped climbing shoes, chalk my hands, and pull up an easy route on one of my favorite boulders in the city.
Within the five boroughs, there are plenty of places to climb freely with limited crowds if you hit it right. Extend that area just an hour or so outside the city’s borders and you can find some epic walls, arguably world-class rock climbing in some places. The “natural” makes New York quite the playground. That is apparent as I work my way up a boulder in the southwest corner of the park that, as far as I know, is rarely or never climbed. I can’t even find beta or a name for it online — unlike the popular nearby routes such as Cat Rock and Rat Rock — so I’ve taken the liberty to name it myself, using it as a fun warm-up boulder or even a place to hangout all afternoon if the other spots are busy mingling with other local climbers.
Every time I send a new route and top out a dozen feet from the ground, I can’t help but look out and up, skyscrapers looming over people in horse-drawn carriages and cramped climbing shoes. I think again to myself about the nature of this massive urban enclave and the way it blends so majestically with the natural world.
It’s easy to neglect the natural beauty of this place. Social media often captivates the expedition-minded folk like myself with stunning visuals of snow-covered summits, endless backcountry single-track, and anything else within an overwhelming wilderness. But today, atop the rocks on this relatively tiny island, I remind myself that New York City is nature. Every part of it. In fact, more than just a venue for breathtaking recreation, nature could very well hold the answers to a lot of the problems and threats this concrete jungle faces.
There’s no doubt the climate is changing. Our industrialized society continues to walk with a heavy carbon footprint, and natural resources maintain their slow and steady fade. With more than 80 percent of the world’s rapidly growing population living in urban areas, now is the time to emphasize nature’s role. Nature-based solutions can protect our coastlines, reduce carbon pollution, and help us to secure a better water future, to name just a few benefits. Whether your view of this city is from a high-rise in midtown or a tree top in Harlem, the solution to protect this diverse metropolis is clear: We must look to nature. We must conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Looking for a natural escape? Check out some of Rob’s favorite places in nature:
Top 5 Climbing spots in and around NYC
• Cat Rock (Southeast Central Park) — a true classic with a diversity of routes.
• Fort Tryon Park (Big, challenging boulders in Washington Heights)
• East Marion, NY (Looking for a long weekend trip outside the city? Check out the North Fork/North Shore of Long Island. The coast is littered with boulders left behind from the glaciers that shaped the island itself.
• “Problem Child” Boulder (This is the spot I mentioned above. Great for warming up and getting ready for the harder problems on nearby Rat Rock. Hint: This boulder is hiding in plain sight… Good luck finding it!)
Rob Riccardo is a native of Long Island, currently living in New York City. When Rob’s not outside getting his weekend adventure fix, he’s fulfilling his other passion for environmental conservation as the NYC Media Relations Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy – the world’s leading environmental non-profit organization.