Sep-Jun: Mon-Sat, 9am-4:30pm; Sun, 9am-3:30pm; Jul-Aug: Mon-Sat, 9am-4:30pm; Sun, closed
City parks are a wonderful boon to kids’ health, but real nature they are not. Thankfully, for parents who want to get their brood back to the land (without leaving city limits), the Alley Pond Environmental Center has 150 acres of woodlands, trails, streams, and ponds about 30 minutes from midtown in Douglaston, Queens. The nonprofit nature center offers classes (both during and after school), though families are free to stop by any time, even without enrolling in, say, a wildlife tracking seminar or a sticks-and-stones craft class. In the animal center, kids get up close to turtles, rabbits, a prairie dog, guinea pigs, and other seldom-pet critters like ferrets and bearded dragons. Or they can learn to bird-watch; identify tulip, oak, and weeping-willow trees; and stick their toes in four separate ecosystems. One thing is certain: Your kids will come away dirty—but for once, it’s real dirt, not subway grime.