The New York City Parks Department is more than just, well, parks.

At its 36 recreation centers throughout the five boroughs, you can find classes held in indoor pools and on basketball courts, plus indoor tracks.

“I think when people think about NYC Parks, they think about our outdoor spaces, they think green space,” said Emily Chase, NYC Parks’ assistant commissioner for public programs. “I think they’re pleasantly surprised when they walk through the doors of our fitness centers and find state-of-the-art [facilities], large basketball courts and fitness classes for all types.”

Those classes include anything from tai chi to aquatic aerobics and are free with annual memberships, which range from free (for under 18) to $100.

“Our programs are as diverse as New York City itself,” Chase said. “We strive to make sure our programs speak to that.”

Chase walked us through some of the Parks’ unique offerings, which are updated regularly based on trends and community interests.



Al Oerter Recreation Center, 131-40 Fowler Ave., Flushing

This traditional Chinese sport, which is similar to hacky sack, “speaks to people who want to get out and play with their peers without ... participating in something that’s more competitive,” Chase said. The game is also reflective of the neighborhood’s Chinese community.


Roller skating

Sunset Park Recreation Center, 4200 Seventh Ave., Sunset Park; Brownsville Recreation Center, 1555 Linden Blvd., Brownsville

“We’re seeing a surge and interest in roller skating — traditional, old-school quad skates,” Chase said. That interest has resulted in a weekly skate aerobics class in Sunset Park and Friday night roller skating parties in Brownsville. “For those who might be bored with traditional fitness classes, putting it on skates gives it a whole new feel,” Chase said.



Multiple recreation centers

Tennis meets badminton meets ping-pong in this game, which is played on recreation center basketball courts and is a current trend Parks has recognized. “Pickleball’s something that’s really been trending not only citywide but nationwide,” Chase said. “We saw it was really great for our senior population and older adults ... and to introduce to some youth as well. To have a program where a 25 year old and 80 year old will compete together is pretty unique.”


Indoor kayaking

Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, 232 W. 60th St.

This class, geared toward children ages 6 to 13, teaches basic paddling and safety techniques in an indoor pool. “For kids that have grown up in the city, to see kayaking alone is often something new,” Chase said. “And then to see a kayak in a recreation center indoors is such a novel thing. I think there’s an attraction there and novelty that gets people particularly excited.” The class, which is led by the Manhattan Community Boathouse, started in fall 2015 after a group of volunteers approached the center about launching it, Chase said.


Double Dutch

Sorrentino Recreation Center, 18-48 Cornaga Ave., Far Rockaway

This program has deep roots. “That’s a community favorite that’s been a staple of the community for over 25 years,” Chase said. “It’s something that continues to speak to the community and something that they expect and that they want.”


Track and field

Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex, 625 Father Capodanno Blvd., Staten Island

The $118 million facility opened in fall 2015, offering a year-round indoor track and field complex, complete with shot put, long jump and high jump event areas. “It’s really one of a kind,” Chase said. In addition to free community programs, the complex hosts high school competitions.


Urban Adventures Training

Lost Battalion Hall Recreation Center, 93-29 Queens Blvd., Rego Park

Indoor climbing challenges and ropes courses are on offer at this facility, which speaks to the “diverse skills and talents” of the Parks staff, Chase said.