2011-03-18 / Editorial/Opinion

Letter From The Publisher On Fort Tilden

The following letter was sent by Wave Publisher Susan B. Locke to the National Park Service, President Barack Obama, as well as Senators Charles Schumer and  Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks.

The Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA) is in trouble and we need your help. It is a question of philosophy and money.

I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed plans for the Fort Tilden complex of GNRA.   

The park has grown and changed over the past 40 years. Its growth is attributable to the hard work and foresight of the people of Rockaway. And, that growth has contributed to the education, well being and quality of life, not only of the people of Rockaway but all New Yorkers. We all worked to enhance and educate, and we did it as unpaid volunteers, with love of community and society.

There are those who want to evict the arts, theater and little league from the park. What will the park become? And where will they go?

In the early 1980s, through the vision of Barbara Eisenstadt and later Leon Locke, the Rockaway Music and Arts Council started a one day music and arts festival on the parade grounds of Fort Tilden which grew to a two day event and drew thousands of visitors from the five boroughs. It was supported by the community, the park administration, and our local and federal representatives. Weekend summer concerts drew crowds to hear the LI Pops, rock and roll, country and western, opera and more. The stage was paid for through funds obtained by our then Congressman Charles Schumer. And our federal, state and city representatives made regular appearances at all the events.

The National Park Service (NPS) forced the festival off the parade grounds, onto the street, and eventually onto city land near Riis Park.  Eventually, the NPS demanded so much money for their services that it essentially put the organization out of business.   

During this time, the Rockaway Artists Alliance entered into an agreement with the NPS to renovate two buildings and create space for art galleries, art classes, music programs, a Halloween extravaganza, after school program and summer camp. The Rockaway Theatre Company moved into the Post Theater and over the past 10 years restored and updated the facility into a first rate theater. The little league renovated a building into a club room for the players. All this was done through government grants, private donations and lots of toil by community members.      

These organizations are mindful of the priceless asset we have inherited and the need to maintain it for future generations.  They have all welcomed the community to experience and enhance the understanding of the environment and the natural surroundings, while experiencing the visual aspects of life, art and theater. It is all about education and growth. And the natural surroundings are better for it.            

The NPS has rigidly approached the use of Fort Tilden, requiring exorbitant fees for continuing the programs these organizations provide. These excessive fees will put an end to these vital programs.

One cannot compare Fort Tilden to our major national parks; the philosophy on how each is used should reflect that difference. Fort Tilden does not have a grand canyon, redwood trees, or a famous geyser. It does not have bears, coyotes or rattlesnakes. It does have a beautiful ocean, beachfront, native plants and birds. It does have grass which invites running, playing and sunning. And all this can be enjoyed alongside the valued assets of the arts, music and theater. If we lose these valued friends we will lose a valued way of life.

The beautiful structures which were transformed from dilapidated Army buildings will fall fallow, to be taken over by the elements. The improvements of these buildings have all been paid for, through grants, by the taxpayers of New York. If these organizations are unable to afford to use the park, millions of dollars of taxpayer money will go down the drain.

We need Gateway to continue to be an urban park, serving all New Yorkers. I implore you to help us save Fort Tilden. 

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