Rockaway’s Newest Park Opens (Sort of) Without Fanfare
Quietly, with no ribbon cutting or politicians, the newest park in the City of New York opened in August, just eight months after the land was acquired — and surprisingly, the park is here in Rockaway.
It started with the vision of local environmentalist Don Riepe, who pegged the Jamaica Bay shoreline site at Beach 88 Street and Beach Channel Drive as future park land in a report produced by The Audubon Society and The Trust for Public Land back in the 1990s. The effort picked up steam in 2009 when The Trust negotiated funding for the purchase from The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In January, 2010, the Trust purchased the land with Port Authority funds and gave it to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for the residents of Rockaway.
Rockaway Parks’ Administrator Jill Weber had visited the site prior to the acquisition, with local paddling advocates from the not-for-profit Gateway Bike & Boathouse. Throughout the spring and early summer, GB&B founder Rick Horan constantly pressured for use of the site. By late July, the park was ready to open to the public (albeit briefly, as 24 months of remediation by the City’s Department of Environmental Protection will be starting in February, 2011).
But the facts of life seemed to dictate that the land would quickly become an unofficial dog run, even though a beautifully landscaped and shady “doggie park” is managed by local not-for-profit ARF-ARF, just a short distance down Beach Channel Drive. As soon as Parks’ staff opened the gate at Beach 88 Street in early August, Weber knew that would be the risk.
The Trust for Public Land envisions picnics, fishing and human-powered boating at Beach 88 Street. The land will need to be seeded and landscaped post-remediation, so picnics on the shrubby, brick-strewn shore of Jamaica Bay are out of the question at present. Getting fishermen there has never been a problem. Historical postcards show that anglers have been dropping lines in the water nearby since hefty steamships docked at the old “Holland Pier” back in the nineteenth century. Even after the plot was fenced in several years ago, holes in the fence would appear from time to time, which neighbors attributed to fishermen. But the peninsula, long a haven for operators of sailboats, jet-skis and motorized boats, has few groups advocating for handpowered boating, and the sight of a kayak in this part of the bay is still rare.
Some local groups have acquired kayaks recently. Gateway Bike & Boathouse was not one of them. Early in 2010, the group applied to add the Beach 88 Street site to the NYC Water Trail, and requested funds from the New York City Partnership for Parks to buy paddling equipment and kayaks, and a bulletin board for park notices. The bulletin board has now been installed at the site, but no boats are forthcoming. Federal and New York City parks officials on the peninsula have received funds for kayaks and employ seasonal personnel to lead trips, but scheduling an event requires lead time and red tape.
Enter Sebago Canoe Club, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) group from Canarsie, Brooklyn, which pioneered humanpowered boating in New York City. Over many decades, the group has built a safety-certified cadre of trip leaders, and a fleet of “club boats” ready to travel. In mid-August, leaders of Sebago were able to come on fairly short notice, with five club kayaks, to join the Rockaway paddling activists. Together with Weber, the group paddled across the water to Broad Channel’s bay front and back, choosing to launch on a weekday so that recreational waterfront traffic would be at a minimum. It was a cloudy, muggy day, so they encountered only one jet-ski and a barge pushing a load of gravel under the Cross Bay Bridge. The group accomplished its objective of testing conditions in the water, which they judged to be favorable for paddlers.
Roberto Rodriguez, a kayaking enthusiast who owns a home across the street from the park, eagerly joined the group and tooled around in a bright yellow kayak to explore the developing marshlands nearby.
With his three young grandchildren living right next door, he hopes to buy some used kayaks and have a little bit of fun with them on the water before the season ends. Then, once remediation has been completed in 2013, the family may be able to paddle regularly from the site — hopefully before his grandchildren have graduated from high school.