2011-03-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

A War Rockaway Probably Cannot Win (Part II)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Last week, I talked about the problem that Rockaway people have with the ongoing redesign of Floyd Bennett Field, the apparent jewel in the Gateway National Recreation Area crown.

It seems that the powers that be in the national park service want to move away from the idea that there should be recreation at those parks and towards the idea that those urban parks are no different from Yosemite or Grand Canyon.

The same problem appears to attach to Fort Tilden and Riis Park as well.

Park Service officials have said in the past that Fort Tilden should be an “historical venue” and that anything not related to the history of the fort or to the ecology of the neighboring tidal marshes should be removed.

Vince Castellano is a Community Board 14 member and the head of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Public Access at Gateway National Recreation Area.

“It appears that the primary problem of public access to the park is one of philosophy. The national parks were established in 1916.

The National Recreation Areas were established in 1972. The impression then was that national parks and recreation areas had different objectives. If that was true at one time, it is apparently no longer true.

We have been told by GNRA General Superintendent Linda Canzanelli that both the parks and the recreation areas are to be operated under the same rules. The park service has put us on notice that active recreation is not an objective.”

When the law enabling the National Recreation Area was passed in 1972, recreation areas, parks, seashores and monuments could be managed differently.

In 1978, however, Congress changed the law so that all national park units must be governed the same way and under the same rules as national parks such as Yosemite and Grand Canyon.

Park officials argued in a recent court case concerning the Golden Gate Bridge National Recreation Area that since off-leash dogs are not allowed at Yosemite, they should not be allowed in recreation areas either.

The original mission of the National Recreation Areas, before the law was changed, was to “Provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.”

Over the years, however, in many of the recreation areas, that role changed from recreation-based to restorationbased.

National Park Service officials I spoke with say that such a move has come to Gateway, and that much of the future focus will be not on recreation such as is provided now by local organizations, but on restoration and ecology.

“Theaters, art galleries and baseball fields are just not the proper amenities for a national park,” one of the “Friends of Gateway” officials at the meeting told me. “You can do those things anywhere. Do you see ball fields at Yosemite? Do you want to see a local theater company on the rim of the Grand Canyon?”

The National Park Conservation Association, a group that says that it is “protecting our national parks for future generations,” recently put out a Field Report that details what the organization wants to see in Rockaway and Brooklyn.

The NPCA, which donates large amounts of money to the park service for running the parks and which has a long-term relationship with National Park Service officials, says, “While [the park] currently provides many educational, cultural, environmental and recreational benefits – from camping to bird watching to historic aircraft restoration – it remains disconnected and underutilized.”

Panels such as the one I attended at the bird sanctuary have been held for the past few months at a number of locations.

Some of the recommendations should be frightening to Rockaway people who see the park as their own.

“Develop and maintain interior walking/ hiking trails.”

“Restore the waterfront edge and make it more accessible.”

“Create a multi-use, year-round facility for education and interpretation.”

“Expand public programming; ensuring uses are compatible with the park’s mission.”

“Protect public grassland and contain the spread of trees to current areas.”

“Remove incompatible uses from the park.”

What does that government-speak really mean?

What are “incompatible uses?”

“What is “compatible with the park’s mission.”?

Those are the questions. I don’t think we are going to like the answers.

I have sat at meetings where the great majority of people argued that a little league field is not an appropriate use for a national park venue.

I have sat at meetings here in Rockaway where people argued that the Aviator Sports complex, a big entertainment and sports draw for Rockaway residents (including my family and me) should be torn down because it’s not an appropriate use for the park. One person even had an artist’s rendering of what the area would look like without the old hangers and with bike paths crisscrossing the entire area around Flatbush Avenue.

I have heard environmentalists who are active in park advocacy groups argue that the NYPD has no place in a national park setting, even though the units housed there are vitally necessary to the health and safety of those who live in the city.

It’s a war of pure environmentalists against the Rockaway interests who want the park to actually be used for Rockaway residents.

I have a sick feeling I already know who is going to win.

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