A park state of mind

Boasting perfect weather, Memorial Day weekend was a great time to get out and enjoy Downtown Manhattan’s beautiful parks. Not everyone was able to get away over the long weekend — but it didn’t really matter, given the spectacular state of the parks. In fact, one almost wondered to oneself, “Why even leave town when you’ve got parks like these?” In particular, the Hudson River Park is a reason to forget about the Hamptons.

The park’s newly opened Chelsea section is, in a word, amazing. And people simply flocked to it last weekend. Where Basketball City’s soot-stained, white bubble once loomed, there’s now a sprawling, dazzling green lawn, which was full of people playing catch or Frisbee, or just lounging about, last weekend. The new carousel is great. What kid (or adult, for that matter) wouldn’t want to ride a cormorant, sturgeon or a red fox while Abba’s “Dancing Queen” blares from the sound system?

Moving on to the new skatepark, it’s quite an impressive facility. The Lords of Dogtown would surely approve. It offers real California-style skateboarding in what actually was designed to look like an empty swimming pool — which is where the California skateboarders got their start. It was a little disconcerting, though, to see most of these daredevils not wearing helmets.

To the north of the new Chelsea section are moored historic ships — painted red and white, a beautiful sight to behold amid the park and the sparkling water. There is kayaking and a sailing facility.

The Hudson River Park’s Greenwich Village section is narrower, but still wondrous. The shrieks from the children’s water play pier at Jane St. attest to its popularity. The Charles St. pier, with its Astroturf surface, is a great spot for parents to play soccer or catch with young tots or to practice a dance move. The Christopher St. Pier is a stomping ground for gay and lesbian youth, where they can meet and mingle. At the Leroy St. dog run, pooches were keeping cool in a dog-bone-shaped mini-pool. Meanwhile, on Pier 40 a few lone souls enjoyed the quiet walkway way out on the pier’s western edge to soak up the sun, as sailboats gracefully tacked by.

Of course, the Village section is still to include Gansevoort Peninsula, once the garbage trucks get off it in a few years, hopefully. And Pier 40 itself, though now a sports mecca thanks to its courtyard field, could become an even-more vital part of the park, but first needs major repairs to keep from crumbling.

Down in Tribeca, Pier 25 is getting readied to reopen as that neighborhood’s beloved “everything pier,” offering beach volleyball, movies and more.

And let’s not forget the adjacent bike path, which was more crowded than a Tour de France peloton last weekend. It’s the most heavily used bike path in the country.

It’s hard to believe what the Lower West Side waterfront used to be and look like. Once it was a working waterfront, with views to the river blocked off by hulking pier sheds. After shipping left for New Jersey, the waterfront became desolate, its main uses car parking, cruising and prostitution. While some might feel hanging out on run-down piers had its charm, the Hudson River Park has opened up the waterfront to everyone.

On the East Side, the renovation of East River Park is almost complete, and it, too, is looking just great.

A famous quote by John F. Kennedy — “We are tied to the ocean” — certainly applies to our waterfront parks, if “water” or “river” is substituted for “ocean.” Clearly, everything goes better with sparkling water and a refreshing breeze off the river — especially our parks. Who needs the Hamptons!