2009-07-24 / Top Stories

Gateway Park Asks: What Do You Want?

By Howard Schwach

The Gateway National Recreation Area wants to know your thoughts about what amenities the park should feature in the future as part of its attempt to come up with a new general management plan that would govern park growth over the next decades.

"The first general management plan for Gateway was finished in 1979," says Barry Sullivan, the superintendent for the Gateway Unit. "Since then, we have a much better understanding of the natural and cultural significance of Gateway's resources. In addition, the needs of our visitors are so different today than they were a generation ago. Considering all this, it is time to look to the future and determine how best to protect, improve and sustain the health of our natural and cultural resources."

Sullivan says that the management plan outlines the future management of the site for the next 15 or 20 years, and that it "sets the philosophy and broad guidance for management decisions that affect the park's resources and the visitor's experience."

While park officials will be gathering information and ideas this summer, the plan is not expected to be implemented until the summer of 2012.

Sullivan says, however, that the plans will be ready for public review by the spring or summer of 2011.

What happens in the park and how it is managed has a large impact on Rockaway residents, locals say.

Three of the park's major units - Riis Park, Fort Tilden and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge - fall within the borders of Rockaway and Broad Channel.

Fort Tilden is a center of Rockaway's cultural life, hosting the Rockaway Artists Alliance, Rockaway Theatre Company and the Rockaway Little League.

In recent years, officials of the park service have been moving such amenities as the Rockaway Music and Arts Council's Summer Concert Series from Fort Tilden to Riis Park, causing some friction between local residents and officials of the park.

Now, those locals will have a chance to meet with park officials and state their ideas for how the park should work with local groups and what they would like to see the park provide for the peninsula in coming years.

The first of those meetings will be held on July 25, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Bay Nine in Riis Park, which is in front of the bathhouse at the beach.

That same afternoon, a meeting will be held at Aviator Sports, at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, from 4 to 8 p.m.

On Wednesday, September 23, a meeting will be held at the Ranger Station at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, from 3 to 8 p.m.

And, finally, on September 27, a meeting will be held at the Wildlife Sanctuary on Cross Bay Boulevard from 3 to 8 p.m.

One local, who asked not to be identified because he often uses the facility, says that the park's first obligation should be to fix up what it already has.

"The park is a shambles," he said. "The boardwalk at Riis Park is falling apart, the railings are rusted away and the benches are broken. Before the park service starts a wholesale redesign, it should fix up all of those things, including the hangars at Floyd Bennett Field. It is a disgrace."

Sullivan says that he hopes that the meetings give the public a chance for a dialogue with park officials.

"In order for Gateway National Recreation Area to reach its full potential we must combine our expertise with the interests of visitors. I look forward to working towards a shared vision for our wonderful resources."

Locals hope, however, that the new plan does not mean an end to the community's use of such amenities as the little league fields, the galleries or the theater that now exist at Fort Tilden.

"I hear that they want to make Fort Tilden into an historical center for the park and move everything that does not have to do with history to other venues. That would be a shame," the local man, who is affiliated with several groups that use the fort, said. "We see the park as a local cultural and sports resource, but park officials see it as a park just like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon, a place to preserve and look at, not the active community venue that we envision and have enjoyed for the past several years.

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