Liz Thomas, an urban hiker who held the speed record on the Appalachian Trail for five years and is a veteran of more than 20 long-distance wilderness hikes, is now taking on New York City.
For the first time in her career, Thomas, 33, from Los Angeles, will travel 175 miles by foot to more than 100 New York City playgrounds and parks including several locations in Queens such as I.S. 73 in Maspeth, I.S. 189Q/Flushing International High School, P.S. 89Q Francis Lewis in Whitestone and P.S. 33 in Queens Village.
Thomas’s cross-borough journey will begin May 15 on Staten Island and will end in Brooklyn on May 23. She will trek across the “World’s Borough,” visiting 40-plus parks and playgrounds for three and a half days on May 18-21.
Going through Queens, Thomas plans on taking advantage of walking to the zoo, the botanical garden and forest park, to get as much of the green experience, she said. She will be staying at AirBnBs each night.
“Among urban hikers it’s considered a holy grail because there’s such a great walking and urban exploration culture in the five boroughs,” said Thomas. “I think one of the things that intimidated me is that I always like to have a theme for my hikes of the sort of places I want to explore and there’s so many interesting ways that I could’ve gone in the five boroughs.”
Thomas has hiked Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portland (Oregon), and Denver, but never before to parks or in a major city-center on the East Coast.
She will hike to public parks created by the New York Trust for Public Land (TPL) whose mission is to create and protect green spaces in the urban environment, ensuring that no community is more than a 10-minute walk from a park.
The 10-Minute Walk program inspired Thomas to participate in the New York City hike, as visiting local playgrounds in her childhood is what originally connected her with nature and showed her that everyone can have access to a greenway no matter where they live.
“There’s all of these studies that show having access to nature is connected to increased health, increased happiness, and increased well-being,” said Thomas. “The way that parks have been historically set up (at least in my experience in other cities) is that there will be lots of parks in more affluent areas and not as many parks or quality parks in places that aren’t as wealthy.”
Thomas is embarking on urban hikes in an effort to engage youth and at-risk communities with the possibilities of outdoor adventure in their backyards. Partnering with TPL, she hopes to illustrate that city dwellers don’t need to access the wilderness or a stomach to brave the elements in order to explore the world around them and engage in healthy exercise.
In preparation for her cross-borough journey, Thomas spent months mapping to come up with efficient routes that will get her to places while also trying to avoid some of the busier streets and go along with the theme of walking through nature, she said.
“It’s also been training. It’s more than 20 miles of hiking a day, not every day but on the weekends for the last few months,” said Thomas.
Thomas will use her phone as her main mapping device and will be joined by some people along the way. She hopes that others will join her along the way walking to another park or playground.
“I’m excited and definitely a little intimidated by the scope of how big the project is and how big the boroughs are,” said Thomas. “It’s a lot of ground to cover and different places to see, but I’m excited.”