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Get a Tan While Doing Good with Outdoor Volunteer Opportunities

 How to spend time outdoors while volunteering.
Get a Tan While Doing Good: Where to Volunteer Outdoors in NYC
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NEW YORK CITY — Lounging at the park or the beach is one way to while away summer's remaining long, sun-filled days.

But you can also get a dose of Vitamin D while boosting your do-gooder quotient by volunteering. It's a great way to meet people and give back to the community, and it might even be good for your health, according to certain studies.

Slather on some sunscreen and take advantage of these volunteer opportunities in the great outdoors.

Teach someone how to ride a bike

Riding on two wheels for the first time is a challenge, but the goal of the nonprofit Bike New York is to make the process painless. Volunteer instructors teach cycling most weekends April through October. Classes are held at locations throughout the city, including East New York, Randall's Island, Soundview Park in The Bronx, and Flushing Meadows in Queens.

Students include both kids and adults, and some return to volunteer as instructors after they become accomplished cyclists, said Education Volunteer Manager Tim Haney. Volunteers must take a brief orientation where they learn skills like helmet fitting.

"It just never gets old, teaching people how to ride," Haney said. "It's always exciting. For both kids and adults, it's really rewarding. You're getting more people out on bikes in New York City, which is fantastic."

Build wildlife habitat on the Gowanus Canal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to launch a massive cleanup of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal, but local citizens have already been doing their part to spruce up the blighted waterway.

The nonprofit Gowanus Canal Conservancy has run a volunteer program for four years. On Aug. 25, volunteers can help build "floating gardens" that serve as habitat for wildlife on the canal. One year a heron landed on a floating garden made of wooden planks and used it as a base for fishing, Volunteer Coordinator Rebecca Rogers-Hawson told DNAinfo in July.

On Sept. 21, volunteers will build "rain gardens" along Degraw and Nevins streets.

"It's a great way to spend your Saturday or Sunday outside with people who want to help out," Rogers-Hawson said.

Work with horses to help disabled kids and adults

You don't have to be an equestrian, or have any experience with horses at all, to volunteer with Gallop NYC, but you do need a desire to help disabled people. The equine nonprofit uses horses as therapy tools for kids and adults with disabilities such as "autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and developmental, speech and language delays," according to Gallop NYC's website.

Gallop NYC works out of several locations, including Kensington Stables in the Kensington/Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn, Bowling Green near Prospect Park, Lynne's Riding School in Forest Hills, Queens, and Jamaica Bay Riding Academy on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn.

Volunteers help lead horses during Gallop's "therapeutic horsemanship" programs. Gallop NYC is now looking for volunteers for its upcoming September session, with volunteer training starting the first week of September, said volunteer coordinator Ellen Dry.

Restore historic ships

Land lubbers and salty sea dogs alike are invited to South Street Seaport Museum to help keep the museum's five historic vessels ship-shape. The oldest are the Wavertree, the largest wrought iron sailing ship still afloat, and the schooner Pioneer, both built in 1885.

The museum deploys a fleet of volunteers year-round to do preventive maintenance and repair work, said Interim President Capt. Jonathan Boulware.

"It really is everything from painting to rigging," Boulware said. "It's a great opportunity to get aboard our ships and be a part of what's happening down here in a way that the public at large doesn't get to do."

No sailing knowledge or experience with boats is necessary, and don't worry about sea sickness. "The boats are so big that it's just like being ashore; there's very little motion," Boulware said.

Volunteers must fill out an application; to do so, contact volunteercoordinator@seany.org and mention "vessel maintenance."

Pull trash out of a lake

Prospect Park is a major draw for people living in Brooklyn, and park users give freely of their time to keep the park pretty — more than 4,000 people volunteered there in 2012.

"They rake leaves, pick up trash, plant trees, assist visitors, and help maintain this historic and magnificent park," said Prospect Park Alliance President Emily Lloyd. She added, "After Hurricane Sandy, they were invaluable in getting the park cleaned up. We cannot do this without them."

One of the biggest volunteer events of the year is September's International Coastal Cleanup, when volunteers wade into Prospect Park Lake to remove litter along the shoreline. The day is part of a worldwide event that removes millions of pounds of trash from waterways around the globe.

"It is a great opportunity for people to truly think global, but act local," said Prospect Park Alliance spokesman Paul Nelson.