Recreation And Culture Are Important
The National Park Service has mandated that all parks under its jurisdiction be subject to the same administrative procedures and regulations. A ruling that places Gateway National Recreation Area on equal footing with Acadia National Park (I prefer Acadia over the more popular comparison with Yellowstone NP. Acadia is a coastal park as is Gateway, whereas Yellowstone is land-locked and has the distinction of sitting on a humongous subterranean chamber of molten rock. It’s a super-volcano, an active super volcano!).
Over the course of these many weeks the key words used by those who oppose the NPS’ decision are recreation and culture and, of course, the descriptive “tree hugger.” Rockaway activists obviously target the Fort Tilden division of GNRA as it is closer to home. pponents say that little league, softball, boating, surf casting, soccer, arts, festivals, concerts, etc. are what the park is all about. They also like to use the phrase that GNRA is “not just for birds or bird watchers” and if recreational/ cultural activities are removed the park would become meaningless. Fort Tilden, for example would, as was written in a recent Wave Letter to the Editor, “be the desolate, dilapidated, useless piece of land it was.” (As an active fort back in the day I doubt that it was useless.) Another writer comments that without recreation and culture in Tilden “there’s nothing there!” To write that Fort Tilden is useless unless utilized for sport/cultural recreation or has nothing to offer without such activities is ludicrous and displays a lack of knowledge of the division’s natural offerings.
I am an active member of Rockaway Music and Arts Council and the Rockaway Artists Alliance. I enjoy the excellent productions presented by the Rockaway Theatre Company and have attended little league games. I also bicycle throughout Tilden and have crossed the Marine Parkway Bridge to do the same in Floyd Bennett Field. As a parent of a Beach Channel HS rowing team member I shuttled team members to Floyd Bennett for rowing practice in the field’s Mill Basin area. I’ve visited the hangar of restored aircraft and enjoy watching model car and plane hobbyists do their thing.
I am a conservationist (I don’t hug trees – I just breath the oxygen they give me) who understands the science of ecology and the need to protect the natural environment. I am familiar with Tilden’s and Bennett’s environment; particularly the former. As a member of Beach Channel High School’s Department of Oceanography I won a grant to write a curriculum in limnology (the study of inland water systems: ponds, lakes and streams). I contracted with Gateway to take classes to and research the Fort Tilden Pond. We studied the Eastern Fowlers toad, listed various dragonfly species, collected dragonfly nymphs from the pond, identified various microorganisms living in the pond, tested the water for pH, etc. (My students called the pond “Steve’s pond” – an honor I still remember when I visit the pond.) A teacher colleague would take his students to the Tilden beach to study wave action, tracked the along shore current, collect sand for typing, and observe the formation of berms and tidal pools among other geological features. I’ve hiked through Tilden’s small maritime forest; attended walks and lectures on the plant life of Tilden learning about the 100s of plant species; and ascended (OK, so I walked up the rustic stairs) Battery Harris East with binoculars to its observation deck. These activities are just as recreational as those mentioned above.
Floyd Bennett Field, Riis Park and Fort Tilden have concrete on the ground and underutilized structures. The three have historical significance and both Floyd Bennett and Fort Tilden have natural areas meant to be protected and enjoyed. As far as I can determine from what I’ve read and heard, tree huggers want the concrete and structures removed together with any and all recreation while the birdrejecters want the greenery gone together with the birds. Why any plan has to favor one above the other is foolish to say the least. The material is already in place. All that needs to be done is restoration, improvement, and access through the brush.
The Rockaway community is only asking that Gateway continue to function under its original designation as a recreational park rather than a national park (as applied to those parks that are preserved in their natural state). Secretary of the Interior Salazar, or another high official of the Interior, should come in person to see what Gateway is all about and then come to a conclusion as to what should be done. Of course the Secretary or any official would not experience the Fall Festivals or Summer Picnic Concert Series; they’ve already been priced out of the park. But they may be able to do a little bird watching, enjoy a small pond, see an exciting hockey game or catch a good Broadway show.