It's a mini-United Nations most weekends at Hempstead Lake State Park.
Located just off Exit 18 of the Southern State Parkway, the 887-acre park offers an oasis of green in West Hempstead within easy reach for Nassau County residents and visitors from nearby Brooklyn and Queens.
On a recent sunny Sunday, families picnicked, a Korean Methodist church group sang and exercised, visitors walked their dogs or sunbathed, and a Hempstead family celebrated a child's birthday.
Park manager Bill Brown said the park was built in the 1870s to supply the Brooklyn Water Works. From May 31, 2011, to May 31, 2012, 358,000 people visited, he noted, taking advantage of its bridle paths and trails, recreation fields, fishing in its 130-acre lake and smaller ponds and riding its antique wooden carousel with hand-carved horses. The carousel has been a fixture at the park since it was donated by philanthropist August Heckscher in 1931.
Jose Limas, of Hempstead, and his family celebrated daughter Monica's birthday — she turned 6 — at the park, which they visit about every other weekend, he said. "I like to go there, it's nice," said Limas, 32, who was there with daughter Lady, 17, and his wife, Nelly.
Park visitors include church groups. "We usually have a service or two on Sundays, and the picnic areas are well used," Brown added.
The Rodriguez family visits five or six times during the summer, said Jesmin Rodriguez, 33, of Hempstead, sometimes joining their extended family for a large barbecue. "It was really peaceful and was just our family," she said. "The little ones wanted to go back as soon as we left."Frances Harris and her sister, Lorraine Rosa, both of Valley Stream, were first-time visitors taking advantage of the park's leashed dog policy to walk Agatha Frisky, their 7-year-old cream-colored standard poodle. "We will make the park a habit," Harris said.