2010-12-03 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

The Tenth Amendment
By Peter Stubben

“Hey Pete,” the boss says, “go over to Riis Park and see what’s going on.”

Twenty minutes later...

‘Good Morning, Sir, I’m with the local newspaper and have a few inquiries, if you don’t mind, for the head of Riis Park.

Well, hopefully, I can help. I wear two hats here at Gateway National Recreation Area as the Deputy Executive Director for the Assistant Secretary (DED-AS), and as the Working Under Secretary for Riis Park.

Great ... I’m Pete. Just as I was coming out of Parking Lot E, Sir, through the underground concourse and up the steps towards the beach, the very first things I saw were two trash dumpsters and lots of squawking birds.

Feeding bins, we like to say here Pete, not dumpsters. And those are gulls ... Herring Gulls, the Larus Argentatus.


Yes, Pete, please remember our dual mission of stewardship here at the Seashore. Long before Robert Moses built this resort for the people of New York; long before Herman Melville wrote of these glistening shores; and even long before the Canarsie Indians settled here, this beach served as home to seabirds, mollusks, and fish ... bunker, bass and the blues, we like to say. Plus, America’s winged fleet including thousands of migratory birds way-lay here twice a year. So Pete, you see dumpsters and smell trash here, but we see symbiosis.

Yes, of course. The ball fields over there and across the street, Deputy Director, they seem a bit weatherworn and beat up. Any plans to clean them up ... taking a lead, say, from the Rockaway Little League?


Or maybe, taking a lead from the Victory Field playgrounds?


Or maybe, taking a lead from the ball fields in Central Park?


Oh, okay. As we walk to the beachfront, Sir, I can’t help noticing the boardwalk’s broken-up concrete and the broken-down condition of the benches.

Rookeries, we like to say here, Pete, not benches. You know, we at The National Park Service commissioned a pioneering study a few years back, sending a research team to the outermost rock cliffs of Nova Scotia with two Riis Park benches, one broken down and the other brand new. There, we observed puffin behavior relative to our benches.


Yes, Pete, the Atlantic Puffin, the Fratercula Artica. Over 60 days we found the Nova Scotian puffin favored the broken down bench by a margin of three to one, and so now – with the facts with us – we only replace one out of four benches and save a few dollars for more worthwhile activities.

Oh, I see. Speaking of repair, Sir, can you tell me about the boathouse: why it took over seven years to repair, and what your intentions are?

Delighted, Pete. Our motto here at Riis Park – as you may know – is ‘Do Nothing, But Do It Well’ and nothing better exemplifies our drive for 100 percent satisfaction than the Riis Park Boathouse. We first realized the building needed brick and mortar repair about 10 years ago and so closed it down, fenced it in, blocked out all intruders and then commissioned a two-year study on what to do. The architectural commission reported that the 1930s building required brick and mortar repair as our earlier assessment revealed, and so we tasked a two-year contract. Our contractors then pointed out that this remediation was to be no ordinary repair, that this boathouse had been buffeted by seaswept and salt-soaked winds for some 60 years. They needed more time, and after re-studying the commission report, we agreed.

But, isn’t that all ...

Let me continue here, Pete, and then you can follow up. Faced with the stepped-up task of reconditioning a beach building, our contractors soon bowed out and we put out a new and revised RFP spelling out ‘sea-swept and salt-soaked’ by measuring average mph winds and calibrating average sodium chloride content in the Park’s sea air. For about five years we kept the boathouse repair on hold, seeking the right contractor, and finally decided after much distress to complete the task in-house with our own personnel. We then completed the job one year later. No one endured more and worked harder on this rehab than our own National Park Service, I’m proud to say. And on your second question, Pete: throughout the decade-long rehab process we reviewed our boathouse options ... should we include an indoor-outdoor salt water pool (?); should we build a mini water park (?); should we include a restaurant overlooking the boardwalk and the beach (?); should we add amusements and snack bars and other amenities facing the boardwalk (?) ... and we finally reached the inescapable conclusion that the boathouse’s best use is to be internal; that is, as staff offices for the National Park Service and our NPS lifeguards. And so we added to the project two 10-ton air conditioning units for the roof. Likewise, we reached the inescapable conclusion that the parking area abutting the building and nearest the beach should also be restricted for NPS personnel only. As part of the revitalization and recognizing the public’s felt needs, we decided to also add two (2) public restrooms, one at each end.

I see. Walking along the boardwalk here, Deputy Director, how about the basketball courts, the tennis courts, the handball courts, the swings and the barbecue pits. What are your thoughts about them and do you have any plans to recondition them?


Before we leave the boardwalk, Sir, one last question. When the tides are high, sometimes the surf swallows your beach here and the ocean water reaches up to the boardwalk. Any plans to replenish your beach with the Army Corps of Engineers?

No plans imminent, Pete ... but you can be sure that if the high tides begin rattling the nesting grounds of our prized and endangered least terns – the Sternula Antillarum – you can be sure we will act with great dispatch.

Walking back, Sir, I can’t help noticing your immense parking lot ... how often, would you say, it fills up?

Well, as you know, we have room here for way over 10,000 parked cars, and the lots don’t often reach capacity.

In round numbers then, how many days in the last ten years have the lots been full, would you say?

Well, as far as I can recall ... let me see, here ... oh, I’d say probably not once in the last 10 years.

A few years ago, as I recall, you rejected an application from a Guyanese group here in Queens that wanted to celebrate their day of independence at Riis Park. How come?

Well, Pete, after careful analysis of the size and scope of their request we realized it would break one of our longstanding taboos here at Gateway ... that is, ‘Too Many People Havin’ Too Good A Time.‘


Well yes, you have to remember our dual mission here. Through deductive reasoning we believe that if too many New Yorkers are having a good time here, well that probably means our other guests – you know, the ages-old inhabitants of this peninsula – are being provocatively encumbered and needlessly distressed. Don’t you see that, Pete?

Likewise, I guess for the Fall Art Fair and the Sunday-afternoon concerts you canceled?

Oh, no Pete, absolutely not ... one of our principal missions here at the National Park Service is to maintain the very friendliest relations with our fellow peninsula residents. In those cases you speak of, it was security; and you know these days we can’t be too secure. We explained that to guarantee safe outcomes for these privately sponsored events we would need to beef up our security ... not only on the ground, but also on the bridge and in the air. We would need to establish a temporary check point on the Marine Park Bridge and we would require circling protective aircraft, as well as beefed up NPS security patrols around the perimeter of our park ... before, during and after the close of the events. This security, we politely informed our private sponsors, would need to be expensed by them, naturally; and so we left the decision in their hands.

One last question, Sir: in our little walk around the beach and resort area, I never saw a ‘Welcome to Riis Park’ sign. Any plans to install one?

I’m glad you brought that up, Pete. That sign is a priority for us and an integral part of our next 10-year plan.

Thank you, Deputy Executive Director.’


Dear patient reader ... except for my own name, this column and ‘interview’ is WHOLLY fiction. I don’t work for any newspaper and I interviewed NO ONE from Riis Park staff.

My intent – as best I could in my own words – is to illustrate why the Founders insisted on the Tenth Amendment, and why they were so worried about federal authority and its unintended consequences. The ridiculous federal mis-management of Riis Park is, I think, a pretty good example.

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