2010-10-08 / Editorial/Opinion

A Vision For The Future Of Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field may be in Brooklyn, but it is clear that the former Naval Air Station serves as Rockaway’s recreation center until something better on the peninsula comes along. Many Rockaway residents cross the bridge to visit the Aviator Sports Complex for both passive and active sports. Others use the bicycle trails and the kayak launching sites to pursue their favorite sports. This summer, Aviator added a concert venue that has drawn many Rockaway residents. Still others enjoy the community garden, the model plane venue or HARP, the group restoring antique aircraft. On a more somber note, the deactivated airfield houses the Marine Corps Reserve, the NYPD’s aviation and special operations units as well as a Doppler radar unit that keeps planes taking off from JFK Airport safe during storm situations. Recently, however, the question of what types of activities and facilities are appropriate for a national park has once again reared its ugly head. Two weeks ago, more than 75 people, the majority of them Rockaway residents, got together at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to discuss the future of the airfield, as well as the future of Gateway National Recreation Area itself. It sometimes got ugly. One gentleman who belongs to the Friends of Gateway, an ancillary organization that assists the NPS in raising money for the park, started off the discussion with his focus group by stating that the park first had to get rid of all of the activities that are inappropriate for a federal park. He first mentioned Aviator Sports, the Doppler radar and the NYPD. He believed strongly that the space would better be used for bicycle riding and animal habitat. When it was pointed out that the NYPD unit and the Doppler radar save lives, he scoffed, stating that they should save lives somewhere else. Many in the room shared his belief. There were others, however, who wanted more development in the park – perhaps a swimming pool or a water park. Perhaps some commercial activity that could raise money for the park to support its ecological concerns. “This park is not just for the birds,” one of the development supporters said, to a smattering of laughter. The fact is, the park should not be just for the birds, or the bikers or the bird-watchers. It should continue to develop venues such as Aviator Sports while retaining a portion of the park as an ecological classroom. Eventually, a consensus of sorts was worked out, albeit tentatively. That consensus was that there should be five components in any future development: a public safety component, represented by the NYPD and the U.S. Marines; recreation, both passive and active; community cultural events; an historical component focusing on the site’s aviation roots; and a large place for ecological education and research. We need a balance at Floyd Bennett and we hope that the park service will heed the consensus and plan all of those components for the airfield.

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