Newly opened nature preserve is at our doorstep

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A Walk on the Wild Side
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Kew Gardens has the good fortune of having on its doorstep the 897.5-acre Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, home to two museums, two tennis stadiums, a zoo, thriving ball fields, and remnants of two world fairs including the Unisphere and a theater.

Less well known, however, is an approximately 50-acre section of the park known as the Willow Lake Natural Area which was opened June 1 to visitors after years of being closed to the public except by special appointment with park rangers.

Now visitors are free to come on their own--though visits are limited to weekends only--to explore the wetlands surrounding Willow Lake that, along with neighboring Meadow Lake, lies in the path of the Atlantic Flyway, the migratory route for birds that extends from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, mostly along the Atlantic Coast.

Designated as forever wild many years ago, it is a haven to not only birds that include white and blue herons and red-tail hawks, ducks and geese, among others, but also wildlife such as turtles, muskrats, raccoon, and a variety of flora and fauna.

The wilderness area is an easy walk for Kew Gardens residents who can gain access at 72nd Street and the Grand Central Parkway Service Road. However, the preferable entrance is at Park Drive East and 73d Terrace in Kew Gardens Hills because it is more accessible and has a groomed walkway rather than a muddy path.

There, an overpass crosses the Van Wyck Expressway and leads down to the Pat Dolan Trail, named after the late community activist. The trail is a broad path about 10 feet wide and currently about a mile long, composed of wood chips to make for very easy walking. It will eventually be extended on the Grand Central side with paving stones to make a continuing path.

The trail was named after Pat Dolan at the suggestion of Jean C. Silva, president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, a group originally founded by Ms. Dolan. When Ms. Silva suggested the path be named after her, the idea won approval from local and city agencies in record time.

Ms. Dolan, a long-time resident of Kew Gardens Hills, was known for her tireless work on community projects. She died tragically in November 2011 after being hit by a car on her way to a meeting.

The Conservancy is a private group of local, civic, and neighborhood supporters that is working to restore the Queens park to its one-time greatness, much as the Central Park Conservancy has restored Central Park in Manhattan.

Flushing Meadows was originally created by Robert Moses to house the 1939 World's Fair, and later was home to the 1964/1965 World's Fair. The two lakes and the parklands replaced an infamous ash dump, an eyesore that in some places was 100 feet high.

The Conservancy has already organized nature walks around Willow Lake, guided by rangers, events for children, and canoe events on Willow Lake with the next one scheduled for October 20. Eventually, canoes will be available free of charge on an ongoing basis, Ms. Silva said. Events are already posted on its Facebook page, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, and a website, FMCPC.org , will be up and running in September.

The wild beauty of Willow Lake has been threatened several times, notably by a 1984Transit Authority's proposal that it be allowed to expand its subway maintenance yards at the east end of the park far into the wetlands area. Fierce community opposition scuttled the proposal. When New York vied to be chosen for the 2012 Olympics, part of the plan was to develop Willow Lake for aquatic events. The idea died when New York lost its Olympics bid.

Now the wetlands face another major threat . . . this time from nature itself. An invasive, non-native reed called Phragmites is crowding out the natural plants, endangering the ecological health of the wetlands and choking the lake. It will take major funding and the hard work of volunteers to eradicate the pest and similar invasive species to halt their onslaught.

For bird watchers and other visitors this is a world like few others in New York City. As the trail meanders through the preserve, apartment buildings and office buildings can be seen far away above the treetops, but a wilderness of young trees, wildflowers and grasses bending with the breeze, with glimpses of the lake behind them, lies peaceful and sheltered. Even the sounds from the teeming, surrounding highways are hushed and distant.

"Here in the heart of Queens lies this refuge where people can enjoy the beauty of nature far away from everything," Ms. Silva said.

Earlier Articles:
  •   99th Annual Meeting of the Kew Gardens Civic Association
  •   Kew Gardens Loses a Landmark
  •   Counting Chickens on Beverly Road
  •   In Memory of 9/11
  •   Pictures at an Exhibition
  •   "Surviving" - A Haunting Documentary Examines Growing Up and Growing Old in Kew Gardens
  •   Through the Looking Glass:  Kew Gardens as Seen by a New Generation of Photographers
  •   Spirits come alive in "Spirits Alive" at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   Killer storm hits Kew Gardens
  •   Jazz at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   The Blizzard of 2009
  •   Filming in Kew Gardens
  •   The 95th Annual Meeting of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, Inc.
  •   Let It Snow - Scenes from Forest Park
  •   A Community Discovers Its Village Roots
  •   Spirits Alive! (2007) at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   Day of Remembrance at Maple Grove Honors the Dead with a Celebration of Life
  •   Summer in the City
  •   Concerns Over P.S.99, Post Office, And Impact Of Potential Landmarking Draw Large Crowd To Town Hall Meeting
  •   Kew Gardens Community Day (2007)
  •   A Parking Lot Becomes a Flea Market
  •   A Touch of Soho on Austin Street
  •   Kew Gardens Merchants - The Bliss Café
  •   Kew Gardens Lights Up for the Holidays
  •   Queens Borough Hall Garage in Kew Gardens
  •   The House on 116th Street
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery (2006)
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday