2007-03-02 / Editorial/Opinion

A New Vision For Gateway National Park

Rockaway residents often take the Gateway National Recreation Area for granted. It just happens to be right there. To Rockaway residents, the park is that old, crumbling airport across the bridge; or, the place where they go see some free summer concerts or a local production of a Broadway show; or, a place to play some par-four golf on a nice summer evening. They see it as a place where others from around the city go to the beach in summer and as a nuisance when traffic from the park begins to back up onto Neponsit streets. No big deal. To others, however, the park is a national big deal. They want to see the park turn from what they consider a decaying eyesore to a dynamic national park that will address the recreational needs of the entire tri-state area. To that end, the National Parks Conservation Association has started an international design competition, funded with $500,000 from the Tiffany & Company Foundation, to develop a plan that would make Gateway an "Iconic National Park." While there is no promise on the part of the National Park Service that the winner's design will actually be funded, the plan is to turn the proposal over to that agency for its 2008 revision of the General Management Plan for GNRA. "Gateway is New York City's greatest unrealized asset," says the conservation group's regional director. "What Olmstead did for Central Park, we are hoping to inspire for Gateway." We welcome any improvements to our own national community park. We would hope, however, that Rockaway's needs are addressed along with the rest of the world's. The national parks are supposed to serve their local community as well as a national constituency. For years, the park has been used by local groups such as the Rockaway Music And Arts Council for its free summer concert series and its annual festival. Fort Tilden is used extensively by the Rockaway Theatre Company, the Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Little League, the volunteer groups that are the lifeblood of the community. We fear that such local organizations will disappear from the scene, "priced out" of the park by its growing commercialization. We cannot allow that to happen. We need Rockaway input into the process. The group chosen to judge the entries is a nationally known, distinguished one, but there is nobody there who can say, "How about the local community?" Perhaps one local official or politician familiar with Rockaway and its volunteer groups could be added to the judging panel. The registration deadline for those interested in getting into the process is March 14. The submission deadline is May 7, so time is short. This proposal could be a boon to Rockaway and we welcome it with open arms. We have all seen what Aviator Sports has done for the recreational needs of the community. Think of what a full-scale change could bring. Locals should log in today to www.vanalen..org/gateway to register and to find the competition rules and deadline dates. Let's put Rockaway into the process.

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