Friday, August 12, 2016

Local Expeditions Prospect Park Tour

A few weeks ago, my friend Meredith asked if I wanted to come with her on a Local Expeditions tour of Prospect Park. Did I ever!

The Vale of Cashmere

Local Expeditions is a unique and intimate tour experience. Founded last year by the wonderful Nancy Blaine, it's the sharing economy's awesome answer to a stale bus tour of your favorite cities (and some more rural locations, too!). Locals take you around their favorite areas, giving a small, personal tour of the very best their city has to offer and ending with a treat at a spot they love. And, on top of that, 5% of every tour goes to charity. The guides all have different focuses (because they're real people, and real people love different things), from photography and gardening to architecture and history. Nancy's focus on our tour was history. *Heart eyes.*

The Rose Garden, where we saw goats!

Our tour was the Prospect Park Power Walk, a fun jaunt through some of Nancy's favorite spots in the park. Meredith had never been to the park, but since I live nearby, I was already very familiar with it, and expected to know a fair amount of what Nancy would tell us.

But, I was totally wrong. After meeting at the arch, we immediately went somewhere I've always been too nervous to check out on my own: one of the Prospect Park nature trails. Although I've run around the main road about a hundred times, and have friends who run on the trails, I've always been too worried about finding a body/becoming a body to run on them myself. I've maybe seen one too many episodes of SVU, but there it is.

One of the wooden archways in the park.

Walking with Nancy, though, made me realize how safe they are, and how cool. Although for many years I have thought that people who say, "Being in Central Park is all the nature you could ever need!" are flat out crazy, it was actually nice to be in "the woods" a bit, and feel a little separate from the city. Prospect Park was very much designed for the people of Brooklyn, not for a tourist population, and it shows in its less manicured areas.

The pond near the boathouse.

We stopped at the Vale of Cashmere, which I'd heard of but never seen before. The fountains were unfortunately off, but we did see a few people hooking up. Apparently it's a big pick up spot for gay men. This is something I would literally never have known, and a place I likely never would have seen, if not for Nancy telling me. We also visited the Rose Garden, where we saw some goats eating away at the poison ivy and other invasive species that came after Hurricane Sandy knocked down many trees in the park. (Roger and I had actually gone to see the goats with my cousin earlier in the summer—maybe one day I'll actually get around to posting about it.)

Meredith outside a water stop (which also has water for puppies on this dog-friendly tour).

We also saw some of Olmstead and Vaux's original designs, and talked about what they were hoping the park would be, and what spots they most disliked. (The overtly manicured areas, it turns out.) The duo was famous for designing parks across the country, and Prospect Park was one of their very favorites. (Olmstead also designed the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and is one of the topics of Devil in the White City, if you're looking to learn a bit more about him.) It was especially interesting to see some of the oldest trees in the park, and to learn more about the arches in the park, how they were built and what purpose they served (originally they were meant to be outdoor rooms).

A waterfall near the Long Meadow

At the end of the tour, Nancy bought us apple cider donuts from the farmers market, which is the perfect way to end the appetite-building jaunt. Because we're all friends, she also invited us up to her gorgeous apartment to have the last of the civit coffee she'd bought on a recent trip to Bali. It was delicious, and I'm sorry to say that if you go on a tour, you probably won't be offered the same, but you will have a wonderful time nonetheless!

Nancy Blaine, tour guide and small business owner extraordinaire!

I had such a great time on the tour with Nancy, and I would absolutely recommend Local Expeditions to anyone visiting New York for the first time. At just $40 for a 2-3 hour tour, they're a fantastic deal and a really excellent way to see parts of the city that even locals might not know about. The site is always looking for new guides, so if you have a corner of your city you've always wanted to share with others, have a look at the site and apply now. And, their offerings are always expanding (right now there are tours in New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts), so have a look back frequently, or request a custom tour the next time you're looking for something great to do.

I can't wait to take the On Golden Pond or Photographing Coney Island tours soon! Thanks so much for an amazing tour, Nancy!

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