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Alley Pond Park

Alley Pond Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This park is the second largest in Queens. The site is named for The Alley, an 18th century commercial and manufacturing center formerly located here. The origin of that center’s name is the subject of some debate. One theory is that “alley” refers to the shape of the glacier-made valley. Another holds that colonial travelers, who passed through the valley to Brooklyn, en route to the Manhattan ferries, named it “the alley.” The well-traveled passage is believed to have been the route George Washington (1732-1799) took while touring Long Island in 1790.

The park lies on a glacier-formed moraine, a ridge of sand and rock that formed 15,000 years ago at the southern terminus of the Minnesota Ice Sheet. The glacier dropped the boulders that sit on the hillsides of the southern end of the park and left buried chunks of ice that melted and formed the ponds dispersed throughout the valley. Geologists call these “Kettle Ponds.” Fresh water drains into the valley from the hills and bubbles up from natural springs, mixing with the salt water from Little Neck Bay. As a result, the park is host to freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows, and forests, creating a diverse ecosystem and supporting abundant bird life.

The native Matinecock once inhabited the area around Alley Pond Park, attracted by the shellfish in Little Neck Bay. In 1673, King Charles I of England (1600-1649) gave a 600-acre land grant to Thomas Foster, who built a stone cottage close to modern-day Northern Boulevard. Soon others built mills that harnessed water flowing into Alley Creek. Although the area supported some light industry, it stayed essentially rural through the end of the 19th century. William Vanderbilt’s (1849–1920) privately run Long Island Motor Parkway was built through the area in 1908, a harbinger of the age of automobile travel that would shape the park through the 20th century.

As the borough of Queens expanded rapidly, its population doubling in the 1920s, the City moved to protect open spaces. The City of New York acquired the alley on June 24, 1929. NYC Parks acquired 330 acres of land surrounding the alley later that year, the most significant acquisition in the creation of the park. “This is an attractive offer and parks must be anticipated for the good of the increasing populations,” Mayor James J. Walker (1881–1946) said after the approval of the $1.3 million acquisition.  “There is no better site in Queens.” 

The park, including 26 acres of newly-constructed playing fields and the Alley Pond Park Nature Trail, the first such trail in the city’s park system, officially opened in 1935 at a ceremony attended by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947) and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981). The new park offered users a 23-acre bird sanctuary, bridle paths, tennis courts, picnic areas, and a 200-space parking lot.  Title to the Vanderbilt roadway was transferred to NYC Parks in 1937 and the next year it was converted into a 2.5-mile bicycle path.

In its zeal to convert the area for recreational uses and through the construction of the Long Island Expressway and Cross Island Parkway in the 1930s, NYC Parks filled in much of the marshland. This land is now recognized as a vital link in the ecosystem.  In 1974, NYC Parks created the Wetlands Reclamation Project and began rehabilitating the natural wetlands of the park.  The Alley Pond Environmental Center opened in 1976 to provide the public with an understanding of the park’s history and ecology.

Alley Pond Park offers glimpses into New York’s geologic past, its colonial history, and current conservation efforts.  Over $10.9 million was spent from 1985 to 1999 to acquire more land for the park, and in 1993, the Picnic Grove, two stone buildings, and the playground and soccer field were reconstructed.

In 2007, the park became home to New York City's first public high ropes adventure course, part of NYC Parks' Urban Park Rangers' larger Alley Pond Park Adventure program. A low–cost outdoor education and adventure program, Alley Pond Park Adventure teaches participants how to canoe, use a compass, fish, and enjoy a natural setting without leaving New York City.

Directions to Alley Pond Park

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