When most individuals journey to New York Metropolis, they’re in all probability planning to experience its well-known structure, soak up an assortment of world-class museums, dine at any variety of unbelievable eating places, or bask within the glittering lights of Broadway. When Liz “Snorkel” Thomas landed within the Large Apple, nonetheless, it wasn’t to do any of these issues—as a substitute, she wished to play within the dust.
Thomas, an award-winning writer (for her e-book Lengthy Trails), record-setting hiker (she held the ladies’s unsupported document on the Appalachian Path for 4 years), and founding father of out of doors gear obsession web site Treeline Evaluate, was within the metropolis to expertise its public lands through a 225-mile “thru-hike” connecting over 100 playgrounds throughout all 5 boroughs.
“One thing about strolling makes us see issues that we didn’t see earlier than.”
She’s lined a number of miles on lengthy trails through the years, from the famed Triple Crown of Mountain climbing (that’s the AT, plus the Pacific Crest Path and the Continental Divide Path) to the considerably notorious GR20 in Corsica, however Thomas is definitely simply as completed at city mountain climbing. Over the previous couple of years, she’s notched over a dozen largely self-designed metropolis treks—from stairway walks in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to multi-day brewery-hopping hikes in Denver, Bend, and Grand Rapids, to a hike tracing the historic Selma to Montgomery March on its 50th anniversary.
For Thomas, city mountain climbing is partially a mirrored image of her normal love of strolling, a technique to join extra deeply to a spot and its individuals, a lot as thru-hikers do on a protracted path. However past that, she additionally sees the act of strolling, particularly in massive cities, as a “political motion.” With one thing just like the Selma to Montgomery hike, the implications may appear extra overt, however Thomas says that even her Denver “Brew Via,” the place she linked 65 breweries over eight days and 100 miles, carried a deeper which means.
“For most individuals, it was in regards to the beer,” she says. “For me, it was as a lot a means to consider pedestrianism and strolling within the metropolis that I lived in because it was in regards to the beer; to get a dialog began. Okay, Denver, you’re a metropolis that has a ton of people that love mountain climbing and who love motion and being match and beer, however how can we have now a metropolis that’s nonetheless not arrange for pedestrians?”
Her most up-to-date city thru-hike has deeper implications, too. Thomas admits that till this spring’s journey, she’d been a lifelong “New York-ophobe,” believing the town to be overcrowded, troublesome to navigate, and devoid of nature. However she started to rethink her bias after listening to in regards to the Belief for Public Land’s New York Metropolis Playgrounds program, which has remodeled 200 (and counting) paved heaps into public college playgrounds—designed partly by the individuals of all ages who make the most of them—that additionally function accessible inexperienced area for the neighboring group exterior of faculty hours, a part of a dedication to make sure all New Yorkers have entry to nature inside a ten-minute stroll of their dwelling.
When this system launched in 1996, the town’s ratio of inexperienced area to residents was abysmal. The place college playgrounds existed, they have been coated in asphalt and closed to public use. And whereas some neighborhoods have been ripe with inexperienced area, others had none in anyway. Now, 99% of New Yorkers dwell inside a half-mile of public inexperienced area; solely two cities of 100 main metropolitan areas studied by the Belief For Public Land (TPL) ranked increased.
Thomas noticed the playgrounds program as a possibility to as soon as once more craft a hike with a higher goal. “I may use strolling to create a dialog about who will get entry to parks. What do parks imply for teenagers? What does nature imply for teenagers? How may we deliver extra nature into extra individuals’s lives?” she says. “It was this ‘A-ha!’ second—that is what I wished New York to search for me as an city hiker.”
She spent three months working in partnership with TPL to design what would turn into a nine-day, 225-mile route that visited over 100 parks, touring not simply on metropolis streets, however by means of current parks and out of doors areas just like the famed Excessive Line, an elevated greenway transformed from a former railway. As with a extra conventional thru-hike, Thomas discovered locations to collect water, use the toilet, and eat alongside the best way (loads of bagels and plantains, however just one pizza cease, which looks as if a little bit of a travesty should you ask this author); at night time, she crashed on buddies’ couches or bedded down in Airbnb leases, persevering with her route from the entrance door the following morning. With out a set “path” to observe, she says navigation was almost as tough and time-consuming as any of her previous off-trail adventures within the backcountry.
And the expertise was simply as significant as some she’s had within the backcountry. Thomas says that by strolling, she was in a position to immerse herself within the communities these public areas serve, witnessing precisely how these locations influence the individuals who use them. She noticed schoolchildren taking part in basketball, realized about group backyard applications, and witnessed neighborhood residents enjoyable on benches, taking part in chess, and kicking round soccer balls.
Probably the most enduring photos, nonetheless, was of a father educating his preschooler experience a tricycle within the South Bronx. “For those who’re making an attempt to show a child experience a motorbike, you possibly can’t simply stick the bike at the back of the automobile and drive to a park like my dad did after I was studying to experience,” she says. “These schoolyards will not be simply there for the varsity; they serve such an vital perform to the group that lives round it.”
Equally vital have been her conversations with lecturers, afterschool program workers, dad and mom, and different group members who’ve seen the playgrounds’ impacts on the youngsters who take pleasure in them. Children started exhibiting early to highschool simply to have time to play exterior. Over time, they offered as extra calm and happier throughout the day. And there have been fewer situations of bullying, as a result of everybody had area and a number of alternatives to remain engaged with out of doors play.
Thomas continues to be digesting the expertise of strolling New York in a means that most individuals by no means will. She’s disavowed her earlier notions, having found a metropolis that gives surprisingly alternatives for solitude and one which’s fully greener than she ever imagined, with parklands—stuffed with cardinals and woodchucks, two animals that served as fixed companions alongside the best way—occupying 14% of the town’s landmass. The hike additionally deepened her understanding of the need of inexperienced and open area in cities, recognizing the push for higher entry as a type of environmental justice.
“Everybody deserves to be near a park, to be near nature, and in a metropolis like New York, that’s not all the time the case,” she says. “We’ve realized a lot within the final decade about how being open air is so vital for teenagers; I need individuals to consider how youngsters expertise nature, and the way we will deliver nature to extra youngsters.”
After all, possibly step one you soak up fascinated with that is the one you are taking exterior your entrance door, turning left as a substitute of proper, or proper as a substitute of left, choosing the trail much less traveled to “hike” your individual metropolis, visiting your individual inexperienced areas and fascinated with their significance not just for your self, however to your bigger group.
“I feel the method of experiencing the world at three miles per hour modifications the best way we see locations, even locations that we really feel we all know rather well,” says Thomas. “One thing about strolling makes us see issues that we didn’t see earlier than.”