The next time someone tells you to go take a hike, take him up on it! Weather permitting, you’re sure to have a good time, get some exercise, meet new people and learn some history — all without stepping foot outside of Queens.
Depending on where you go and whom you go with, you might also get to sample some of the borough’s infinite variety of ethnic foods — enough so you might need another hike just to work off the calories — or even chase down ghosts with a group of true believers in the supernatural.
All this and more awaits you on the many guided walking tours available in Queens, as well as much of the rest of the city. With well-known urbanists leading the way, or in some cases foodies or ghost hunters, you can learn details about your home borough that you just can’t get driving around in a car or riding mass transit.
Two weekends from now, you can join in one or more of the Jane’s Walks, free excursions organized by the Municipal Art Society in honor of Jane Jacobs, the anti-Robert Moses. Jacobs, a writer and activist who lived in Greenwich Village, fought development to protect distinct neighborhoods such as her own, changed the course of urban planning through her activism and her 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” and led the successful battle against Moses’ plans for an expressway in Lower Manhattan that would have cut through Washington Square Park. The walks honor her legacy.
A Jane’s Walk down Bowne
Among those who’ll be leading a Jane’s Walk the weekend of May 4 and 5 is Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, who has been heading tours of communities here for decades. He’ll be leading one on Bowne Street in Flushing.
“This is the first time I’m doing a Jane’s Walk,” Eichenbaum said. “It’s a new one for me, though it’s my own neighborhood.
“She was an urbanist who kind of changed New York from Robert Moses to something that’s a little softer, from master builder to a more neighborhood focus,” he explained.
As Eichenbaum puts it, “Bowne Street is a pretty special street” — it’s historical and multiethnic and even has some interesting green space remaining, though it’s in the heart of Flushing.
Among the main draws is of course the Bowne House, the 1661 residence that was the site of one of the most important Colonial actions asserting religious freedom in what would become the United States: John Bowne’s arrest in 1662 for allowing Quakers to meet at the home. Bowne was imprisoned and banished to Holland, but there he successfully argued for allowing those of all faiths to worship — establishing that principle in New York more than 100 years before it was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Also on Bowne Street is the Hindu Temple Society of North America, commonly known as the Ganesh Temple, an iconic piece of architecture that further reflected freedom of religion here when it was built more than 300 years after the Bowne House, and still does.
And there’s even more to see, including historical Weeping Beech Park, with its majestic trees, right next to the Bowne homestead.
The walk, called “Bowne Street, My Street,” will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 5. There is no fee and no registration is required. Participants will meet at the northwest corner of Main Street and 39th Avenue, outside St. George Episcopal Church.
Jack Eichenbaum’s other tours
Eichenbaum, a Queens native who grew up in Bayside and Flushing and has lived at the same address for the last 35 years, leads walks of all kinds around the borough. Most cost $15 and some require registration (his April 27 signature tour, “The World of the #7 Train,” is sold out). Some are sponsored by the MAS and some by the Queens Historical Society, and some are run solely by Eichenbaum.
He too learns new things on the walks.
“If I haven’t been to a neighborhood in a couple of years, I’ll almost always see something that is new and unexpected,” he said. And those taking a tour of areas in flux, such as Long Island City and Flushing, will find them “unrecognizable” if they haven’t visited for a long time, he added.
Eichenbaum will lead a tour called “What’s New in Long Island City?” from 5:45 to 8 p.m. on Friday, May 17. Next will be “Daylight Loft Buildings in Long Island City,” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 19. Following that will be “On and Off Jamaica Avenue,” a new tour, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22.
Other Municipal Art Society walks
If you don’t want to wait until May 22 to stroll Jamaica, the MAS is holding another Jane’s Walk there from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, in conjunction with the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning. Participants are promised 300 years of historic sites and public art on a tour led by mixed media artist Rejin Leys. Details are available at mas.org/programs/janeswalknyc.
A week before the Jamaica tour, the MAS will host a walk around Queensbridge, the nation’s largest public housing complex. That tour, led by New School professor Joseph Heathcott, will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27 and wrap up at Queensbridge Park, on the East River. For more information, or to sign up, visit mas.org and click the “tours” link.
The MAS, which can be reached at (212) 935-3960, sponsors walks all over the city.
Kevin Walsh’s Forgotten New York
So too does Kevin Walsh, author of the book “Forgotten New York” and master of the website forgotten-ny.com, which lays out the history of individual neighborhoods and streets like no other site. Walsh can point to a streetlamp and tell you which specific model it is and how common it is around the city — and make it all interesting to hear.
Walsh’s next walk in Queens is a tour of Calvary Cemetery, set for noon on Saturday, May 4. Participants will meet at LaGuardia Community College, located at Thomson Avenue and Van Dam Street in Long Island City. Further details had not been posted as of Tuesday afternoon, but Walsh can be reached at either Kevin@forgotten-ny.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forgotten New York is associated with the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
NoshWalks — yummy!
But what if history, architecture, horticulture and infrastructure aren’t your thing? Maybe some of the more specialized walks offered around Queens would be more up your alley.
We all eat, and of course the borough is renowned for its diversity of culinary delights — only natural given the diversity of its population. That’s where NoshWalks come in.
“Nosh your way from Odessa to Bombay ... and never leave New York!” the organizers boast at noshwalks.com, and they aren’t kidding.
Their next foodies’ walking tour in Queens is called “Crossing Continents in Elmhurst!” It will start at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, with participants meeting at the Pacific/Asian Supermarket at 75-01 Broadway in Jackson Heights.
“Prepare your palate for the tastes of East and South Asia, as well as a side trip to Colombia,” the organizers say. “Elmhurst is renowned for New York’s best Thai food, but we’ll also have Indonesian, Chinese and possibly Korean specialties, as well as a taste of delicious baby corn arepas at a Colombian bakery.”
The tour also includes stops at markets, where participants often buy seafood — you’re advised to bring a freezer bag.
The walk costs $50 for adults, and tickets may be purchased at the NoshWalks website.
The Ghost Doctors
If you want to take a walk on the wild side and seek out those things that go bump in the night, there’s another set of tours just for you, offered by the Ghost Doctors — Dr. Pete and Dr. Stew.
Their website, ghostdoctors.com, says of the pair: “Longtime natives of NYC, they have scoured the streets of this amazing city and unearthed the supernatural underbelly of the Big Apple, from ghostly orbs and apparitions, actual voices from beyond (electronic voice phenomena) to the detection of EMFs (electromagnetic fields) [and] wraiths and phantoms that pass in the night.”
Their next event in Queens is an investigation of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, set to start at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 21.
Briefly summarizing the history of the park, the Ghost Doctors’ website says it “still retains many of its past remnants, and possibly those spirits who just never felt like leaving.” They promise participants will learn how to use “authentic ghost hunting tools,” and advise bringing a camera. You can reach them at (347) 502-7352 or email@example.com.
Of course, depending on what’s discovered, this could be the one Queens walk that turns into a run.