Spring Has Sprung — in City Parks . . . and Beyond

Editor’s Note: City Parks Foundation will announce its summer season of free arts, sports and education programs for children citywide at a special press event on May 12. The information will be available to the public that day at www.cityparksfoundation.org. The Foundation’s FREE programs serve more than 50,000 children in nearly 100 parks throughout the five boroughs each summer.

The weather this past March and early April confused more than just human sinuses. The city's parks either burst with joy and mottled color like Impressionist paintings, or collapsed back into mid-winter spiritual decrepitude. Now that the weather appears to have leveled off, the city's parks and residents can finally feel comfortable doing what they do best: getting together. More official than the weather itself, though, are the words of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. On March 22, Benepe delivered a public reminder to New Yorkers that March 28 would be the final day for ice-skating in the city's parks.

Skating is nice, but Commissioner Benepe is right; it's time to move on to something more springlike. One activity synonymous with spring is baseball. The city's ball fields opened officially on April 10, but it won't be until May 8 that Derek Jeter's Turn2 Foundation will begin hosting free baseball clinics. In Manhattan, the six-week clinic will be held at Frederick Douglass Playground, 9:30am-11:30am. (The dates are May 8, 15 & 22; and June 5, 12, & 19 — all Saturdays — with a June 26 rain date. To find out about locations and times in all five boroughs, go to www.turn2foundation.org). Participants in the clinic are treated to a field trip to Jeter's place of business, Yankee Stadium, and are rewarded for completing the program by participating in the annual Turn2 Kidfest, where they can eat, play carnival games, dance, and meet the Yankee shortstop.

In Central Park, rather than running the bases, physically adventurous 8- to 17-year-olds are invited to tackle "Climb On! Rock Climbing for Children". In a series of four sessions, young people with a touch of mountain goat blood in their veins will learn the basic approach, equipment, and techniques of the sport, including belaying (the technique of securing a rope while climbing). The lessons — each running for four sessions — will begin May 1, and are limited to eight participants each. (Tuesday sessions run after school, from 4pm-5:30pm). Pre-registration is required; the fee is $25. Sessions will be held at the North Meadow Recreation Center, located midpark, at 97th Street.

Outdoor types will also have the chance to do some catch-and-release fishing, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10am-4pm, at Central Park's Harlem Meer. Bamboo poles and bait will be provided, and members of the Central Park Conservancy will be on hand to teach fishermen of all ages to safely catch and release the Meer's stock of bass, catfish, shiners and bluegills — all for free. The Meer is located inside the park, at 110th Street, between Fifth and Lenox avenues. For more information, go to www.centralparknyc.org.

Wollman Skating Rink is closed, but replacing it, on May 19, will be the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park. Featuring rides, plenty of games and traditional concessions, the park will be open weekdays, 11am-7pm, and weekends, 10am-8pm. Admission is $9 adults, $14 children. For more information, go to www.victoriangardensnyc.com.

In the heart of midtown, at Bryant Park, the carousel — officially "Le Carrousel" — continues to amuse riders of all ages with its 14 ornamental animals. Known in the carousel-making business as the "menagerie", these colorful beasts were fashioned by the Brooklyn-based Fabricon Carousel Company to complement the park's own French classical style. The carousel is open Monday-Friday, 12:30-6:30pm, and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, 11am-6:30pm. Hours of operation are weather permitting. A single ride is $1.75; there's also a frequent rider plan of 12 rides for $15. Le Carrousel is located midpark, on the 40th Street side.

Heading downtown, Madison Square Park will unveil, in time for summer, a brand-new food kiosk built and operated by the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Union Square Hospitality Group, a fine cap to the park's $5 million renovation. Farther down the island, the parks in Battery Park City will be lively this spring. Preschool family play, art and games, "Play As You Please" sessions, gardening for children, performances for families, teen drumming, "Teen Marine Adventures", children's basketball, soccer clinics for kids — and much, much more — will be held throughout the spring and summer, at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, West Thames Park, Esplanade Plaza, and Nelson A. Rockefeller Park. For a full list of events, times and locations, go to www.bpcparks.org.

And if by some chance you happen to be heading in the direction of Brooklyn, Prospect Park's Audubon Center at the Boathouse might make a nice visit, surrounded as it is by nature trails that wind through acres of natural habitat. Fashion a meal for a duck, drop in on conservation programs, and — through October — cruise the park's Lullwater in an electric boat. (Boat tours are $5 ages 13 and up; $3 ages 3-12; children under 3 are free). Kids ages 3-5 and their caregivers are invited to hear free nature-based stories, music, or make crafts. No pre-registration is required. For more information, go to www.prospectpark.org.